Blaming Seniors for the Housing Shortage is Misguided

large two storey home

In a world where real estate frenzy seems to dominate every conversation, commercials featuring a spirited retiree named Doris, played by Canadian actress Jayne Eastwood, have sparked a new wave of dialogue. These advertisements by HomeEquity Bank challenge the notion that seniors should downsize their homes, portraying Doris as a feisty advocate for aging in place. While the commercials tout reverse mortgages, they also shed light on a pertinent issue: the cultural pressure for retirees to relinquish their spacious homes as a solution to the housing shortage.

As the spring homebuying season unfolds and discussions about potential interest rate cuts swirl, housing market FOMO is once again palpable. Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, are feeling the pinch of an affordable housing crisis and often point fingers at retirees, accusing them of hogging single-family homes. But is blaming seniors for the housing shortage fair or accurate? A recent Globe and Mail opinion article says neither is correct.

The reality is far more nuanced. Yes, some retirees may choose to remain in homes larger than they currently need, but the reasons behind this decision are diverse. For some, limited housing options, inflated prices, or high rents make downsizing unfeasible. Others cherish the emotional attachment and community ties associated with their homes, especially after the vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic in communal living settings.

Moreover, labeling seniors as selfish for wanting to stay in their homes overlooks the significant benefits of aging in place. Continuity, community, and emotional attachment contribute to the health and well-being of older adults. The importance of social engagement, which tends to flourish in familiar environments cannot be understated. Recognizing this, policymakers need to reevaluate their approach to housing solutions, shifting from blame to proactive measures.

In Australia, some states offer incentives to encourage downsizing among seniors, providing concessions to mitigate financial risks. Similarly, Canadian policymakers need to consider innovative solutions that respect seniors’ autonomy while addressing housing shortages. Downsizing should be a choice, not an obligation imposed by societal expectations.

In addition to addressing existing homes, policymakers might support the need for houses that can house multiple generations, federal policymakers need to include homes built with universal design in design catalogues as they seek to imitate wartime houses that are built quickly and provincial policymakers need to provide guidance to municipalities around the inclusion of universally designed homes to put all municipalities on the same footing when dealing with builders who prefer putting the largest homes on the smallest lots.

It’s time to redirect the blame away from seniors like Doris and toward the policymakers and planners responsible for inadequate housing strategies. By reframing the conversation and embracing the diverse needs and preferences of older adults, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable housing landscape for generations to come. After all, it’s not about getting seniors off the lawn; it’s about ensuring everyone has a place to call home.