Few Smaller Options Keep Seniors in Large Homes

In cities across Canada and the United States, housing prices remain high and while young families struggle to find affordable homes, many older adults are remaining in large houses with empty rooms because a move to a smaller home doesn’t make financial sense.  The trend suggests that a growing percentage of singles and couples are living in homes that are larger than they require due to the high cost of smaller housing alternatives. 

According to a recent Globe and Mail real estate report, many local governments are dealing with acute housing needs.  As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the proportion of older adults will continue to grow, and many are remaining in large homes due to the lack of affordable smaller housing.  This leaves much unused housing space in small cities like Peterborough, Thunder Bay, Kingston and St. John’s.  Lethbridge,  Alberta had the largest share of couples and singles living in a home with a minimum of three bedrooms in the 2021 census – 37 percent.  Even in large cities like Toronto and Montreal, the share of empty bedrooms has increased over the past 15 years. 

Although some older adults are utilizing their space more with home-sharing, cities are also looking at building more low-rise multi-residential housing options for seniors and others.  Many seniors wish to remain in their neighbourhoods where they know people, are familiar with local stores and services, and can stay a part of their social and spiritual community.   But with a lack of nearby downsizing options, older adults may choose to remain in place even if the space is more than they need. 

Condo fees can be expensive, and many older adults are simply not ready for retirement or long-term care homes.  Although a large home can be difficult or costly for seniors to maintain, the lack of other suitable housing has many staying in place.  Zoning changes to allow higher-density housing is one option to help address housing needs. Still, many groups are opposed to construction that would increase noise and traffic, or sacrifice green space. Construction costs are high, material and labour shortages continue, and small condo units with stairs may not be appropriate for older adults. 

Planning for desirable housing for older adults will take creativity, initiative, and cooperation between local governments and housing providers.  Co-housing, home sharing, housing cooperatives, naturally occurring retirement communities, seniors villages and niche retirement communities are just a few of the housing and community alternatives for older adults today.  Learn more about creating a community and finding suitable housing in older age by visiting author Beth Baker’s website here