A recent article in my local newspaper caught my eye - it spoke of the high number of 'unused bedrooms' which are contributing to the increased housing prices and lack of affordable housing for young people. As children grow up and leave home, couples are left with large homes that are quite empty. When faced with a choice of move or stay, many are opting to stay simply because the cost of moving is too great and the options are limited. For many, staying in their mortgage free home, is far cheaper than moving to a condo where expenses far exceed what they are currently paying to run a home. Most have their homes as their greatest asset for retirement and want to save the funds they have for their older years rather than deplete it on unnecessary living expenses. Additionally, the offerings that do exist are often too small for those moving from a house, to consider. Just as there are no inexpensive options for young people, the same is true for those at the other end of the age spectrum. And so, downsizing becomes something many choose not to consider until they are forced by circumstance.
Those living in smaller and more isolated communities face additional challenges as they age because of the lack of resources in many areas which they may not feel until they become less mobile. While living out of the city is attractive when one is young, independent and raising a family, it can be problematic as one ages. Older seniors who stay in their homes which are a distance from amenities like healthcare and shopping may become increasingly isolated and may have difficulty organizing adequate in home supports, as they age.
Housing options, affordability and, for seniors, resources and care are key issues many are faced with. It seems that we need to start looking for innovative housing options for both the young and old. Just as I worry that our young adults of today will never be able to afford to own a home, I am concerned that our seniors of tomorrow will find the cost of retirement living prohibitive and/or will not be able to afford the care they require. So many are already in this predicament; unless we make changes to the way housing and care are offered to our seniors, even less people will be able to cope with the challenges of aging they may someday face.
This is indeed a huge issue that will take years of planning and coordination to resolve, so where do we start?
There is a fair bit of research on Age-Friendly Communities that our policy makers may find helpful. As a start, a document produced by the World Health Organization summarizes the importance of including many parameters for the cities of tomorrow (http://www.who.int/ageing/publications/Global_age_friendly_cities_Guide_English.pdf ). As well, there are many interesting co-housing, care in place, and multi-generational models that work well in other countries. As with so many things, rather than 'reinventing the wheel', perhaps our best solution has already been discovered and we need to just look beyond our borders to explore innovative ideas and options that can help both young and old with their housing dilemmas.