When it comes to housing, today’s seniors want choice.
“They don’t want one size fits all, because lifestyles are so varied,” said Maxine Mcleod, an occupational therapist. “Seniors want to have choices to reflect what they value.”
As a therapist, Mcleod has seen how some retirees plan ahead for a move that brings them closer to their children and grandchildren.
“Then there are others who say ‘I’m going to die in my own house’ ”, said Mcleod.
A recent Age Friendly Edmonton report notes 82 per cent of seniors want to stay in their own home as they age. It projects the population of people aged 55-64 will more than double over the next 30 years. Seniors over 80 could increase as much as 266 per cent.
It’s a global trend, and in 2010 the World Health Organization addressed the phenomenon with its Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. It commits members to incorporate senior-friendly design into their planning. Edmonton became a member that year.
Having senior-friendly housing and services throughout communities benefits more than seniors, said Mcleod.
“For seniors, diversity means having the supports to solve problems while they’re still minor, as opposed to waiting until a crisis happens,” she said. “For the community, diversity ensures all perspectives are encountered.”
Maggie Kellar, a resident of Avenwood Corner (seniors apartment), has lived in Alberta Avenue for 20 years. She said it’s where she wants to stay.
“Everything’s so close: the drug store, bakery,” Kellar said. “There’s always people walking by. This is my home.”
Gloria Koshman, another resident, said she left for a year but came back.
“I moved in with a friend, but I came back. I wanted a place of my own,” Koshman said. “Now it’s my home.”
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), seniors’ housing vacancies in Edmonton shrank last year from 6.3 per cent in 2015 to 4.2 per cent last year. That means waiting lists. The Greater Edmonton Foundation reports a two year wait list for its seniors’ lodges.
And more people are retiring here. Nearly 40 per cent of Alberta retirement spaces were in Edmonton, compared to 33 per cent in Calgary, reported CMHC.
As aging in place takes front stage, organizations and developers are tackling the issue with innovative home design and urban planning.
Alternatives to ageing in your own community
Home For Life™—a partnership of the city, Age Friendly Edmonton and Alberta Health Services—promotes building new homes that can accommodate a family throughout their lifespan.
“We’re trying to increase the supply of housing in Edmonton that people can continue to live in as they approach old age or in case of an accident or illness,” said Ron Wickman, an architect and one of the founders of Home For Life (HFL).
Those homes are designed with wider doorways and hallways, for example, and larger turning areas in the kitchen and bathroom. City councillor Andrew Knack, whose portfolio includes seniors, said designing a home under HFL guidelines is a win-win.
“It allows neighbours who may have mobility challenges to come over for a community potluck. If you design a city that works for those who are older, it will work for everyone,” Knack said.
Wickman is working with developers to get one of these homes built. Another developer just completed an HFL house in King Edward Park.
Another option is garage suites. Mick Graham, owner of Singletree Builders, noted family members such as aging parents occupy up to 70 per cent of garage suites.
“They’re ideal for someone who’s in a change of life and wants to move closer to family and still have some independence,” Graham said.
Nearly 80 of these suites were built in the city over the past two years.
Another emerging senior-friendly alternative is the pocket neighbourhood: typically smaller houses with shared green space, a visitor suite, and a common house.
“It’s a kind of co-housing development. Residents own their own unit but also own a share of the common area,” explained Graham, who is trying to put together his first pocket neighbourhood in Edmonton.
The city doesn’t have zoning for this kind of development, but it can be done through a direct control zone, said Graham.
What they do is create community.
“It makes sense on a whole lot of levels,” said Graham, adding they’re also a safety net. “They appeal to a mix of ages, young families just starting out as well as singles, seniors. It means you always have someone at home.”
Featured Image: Maggie Kellar, left, and Gloria Koshman take in some fresh air near a leaf-strewn Alberta Avenue street. They’ve lived here almost two decades, and say this is where they want to stay. | Kate Wilson