“Government does not recognize housing as a human right.”
(Older Women’s Network)
Throughout the consultation process, the Commission heard concerns about the need for more accessible and affordable housing and for special needs housing for seniors including those who are homeless. Submissions also highlighted that the principle of “aging in place” is central to any discussion, policy or program efforts concerning housing for older persons.
Inadequate housing options: Almost every submission that discussed the issue of housing emphasized the critical need for more affordable housing for older persons. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) told the Commission that it has implemented several programs to address the issue of affordable housing. MMAH has expanded the Rent Supplement Program, a program that provides housing subsidies to individuals living in privately owned rental housing. Additionally, the government has committed $50 million annually to assist low-income individuals and families, including seniors, across Ontario. MMAH also introduced tax credits to encourage the construction of new affordable multi-residential rental accommodation.
“There are many older people among the homeless... the lack of accessible low cost housing and the removal of rent controls have left many seniors fearful of eviction. There is no place to go.”
(Canadian Pensioners Concerned)
Despite these expansions and investments, the Commission heard that the current approach to affordable housing for older persons is inadequate. The fact that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation(CMHC), and MMAH are no longer guaranteeing new mortgages, in combination with the transfer of responsibility for housing to the municipalities, means that there is little new affordable housing available. This, in addition to the fact that increases in pension income have not been consistent with the increases in rental costs, creates a particularly vulnerable state for older persons. As one group noted, some of the current housing options that exist for older persons are only available to those who can afford to pay (Dieticians of Canada). To address this gap, more affordable housing, priced at fixed rents, or larger increases in pension income are necessary (ESAC).
The Tenant Protection Act, 1997: The Commission heard a great deal about the impact of the Tenant Protection Act, 1997 (the TPA) upon older persons. MMAH told the Commission that the TPA provides a number of protections, particularly for frail older persons and those living in care facilities. As well, MMAH emphasized that the TPA prohibits discrimination in accommodation (rental housing) on the basis of age, among other grounds.
“A lot of tenants don’t consider it a tenant protection act; they don’t see themselves as protected.”
Despite this, the Commission heard from organizations and individuals alike that the TPA has served to remove a number of real protections for older persons. The removal of rent controls was identified as having an impact on the availability of affordable housing, a particular problem for women and older persons on fixed incomes. The result is that older persons may not have sufficient income to choose where they wish to live. For example, the Commission heard about widowed women facing barriers in obtaining smaller, more manageable residences because of the ability of landlords to raise the rent for new leases.
The Commission was also told that the TPA is of particular concern for older persons who are at risk of homelessness. As Senior Link suggested, older persons are likely one of the fastest growing groups of homeless persons because they are socially and economically vulnerable. The Older Women’s Network added that this is particularly so for older women who experience disproportionate social and economic disadvantage. The TPA increases this vulnerability by making it easier for landlords to evict people.
Homelessness: For those who are homeless, the issue of affordability is even more critical. Without income and a permanent address, homeless older persons face great barriers in the search for stable housing. Consultees told the Commission that in a housing market with little or no affordable housing, the vulnerability of this group of older persons is heightened.
Options for Addressing Affordability
“Subsidized housing has the potential to reduce the likelihood that an older person will live in dire poverty... be in need of a food bank or possibly become homeless and not have enough to eat.”
(Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations)
To address the issue of affordability, a number of the submissions suggested that the provincial government take steps to ensure that affordable housing is widely available. New and creative housing initiatives are required including housing options developed through partnerships with for-profit and not-for-profit agencies. Subsidies for low-income seniors in rental apartments should be considered. Consultees suggested rent subsidies through the Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement (GAINS) for low-income seniors who rent in apartments, nursing homes and retirement homes (Canada’s Association for the fifty-plus (CARP)).
Additionally, submissions suggested that care facilities should include a variety of rental options by including some units at market rent, and some at subsidized rates.
Finally, the need for shelter allowances similar to programs such as the Section 8 Voucher program in the United States or the Shelter Allowances for Elderly Renters (S.A.F.E.R.) program in Manitoba was identified (Fair Rental Policy Organization of Ontario (FRPO)). Additional suggestions included the restoration of rent controls and incentives and grants to municipalities for subsidized housing for older persons.
Social housing in Ontario consists of three types of housing: non-profit, public and co-operative housing. Such housing is meant to provide affordable accommodation for those who face barriers in the rental accommodation market based on income, age, social and health related needs. MMAH submitted that the new Social Housing Reform Act, 2000 provides a mechanism by which the provincial government will implement standards to protect the supply of housing for people with special needs, including the frail elderly. The new Act also includes provisions directing municipal service deliverers to maintain the number of units for people with special needs, and to provide mandatory priority access to all social housing units designated for people with special needs.
Despite such legislation, consultees expressed great concern regarding access to appropriate social housing. The Commission heard that a person in need of social housing in Toronto must currently wait seven years (The Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organizations). Additionally, one group noted that within the existing stock of social housing, buildings cannot be made accessible in a safe and cost effective manner. Therefore, construction of new special needs housing should be the focus (FRPO).
The Older Women’s Network recommended that the provincial government again become involved in building and maintaining affordable social housing. They noted that in the absence of incentives for builders to develop social housing, the only way for it to become available will be through investment by various levels of government.
“A barrier-free environment should not simply be the “aim” but rather the expected standard for all buildings.”
Throughout the consultation process, the Commission heard that the current stock of housing (including care facilities) for older persons is not accessible to several groups of older persons. Consultees emphasized that housing for older persons, whether a private home or a residence, must be equipped and accessible so that residents are afforded a life of dignity, independence, full-participation, fairness and security.
Barrier-free Design: The Commission heard that in the design of housing for older persons, fire exits, entrances and general living spaces should be free of barriers, and ramps should be available for those who cannot use stairs. Accessibility also means that hallways and doorways should be wider to accommodate the need for walkers or wheel chairs, counter tops should be lowered for future possible use by residents in wheelchairs, and bathrooms should have grab bars and be wheelchair accessible (United Senior Citizens of Ontario). Still others suggested that flooring should not be slippery; windows should be lowered and bright lighting should be used; door knobs and other fixtures should be selected bearing in mind the needs of persons with arthritis; and living quarters should have enough storage for wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen tanks. Inclusive design that takes into account the specific and evolving needs of older persons as they age is critical.
“Developers and builders must design housing that is ‘senior friendly’ and consider the needs of the disabled. This expertise is now available. If necessary, make changes to the Ontario Building Code.”
(Alliance of Seniors to Protect Canada’s Social Programs)
The Commission learned about the barriers faced by Deaf, deafened, the hard of hearing and visually impaired older persons as a result of the current standards for building design. As the Canadian Hearing Society noted, many buildings that house Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing older persons are not equipped with appropriate supports, resulting in the potential for safety risks, for example in the case of emergencies. In order to meet the needs of Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing persons, buildings should include: flooring with enough give to allow for audible foot-stamping to attract attention, and clear visual signage and indicators such as flashing alarms, phones and doorbells, TTYs and caption decoders. Additionally, there should be extra insulation between suites as older persons who are hard of hearing may have to turn up the volume on their televisions or radios. Finally, the Commission heard that the building design needs of persons with visual impairments include open spaces, round corners, clear and gentle lighting, restful wallpaper and paint, and Braille signage.
Consultees emphasized the need for education with respect to barrier-free design and flex-housing as important priorities for those involved in the design and construction of homes for older persons. Additionally, it was suggested that the provincial government provide grants to municipalities for the construction of barrier-free subsidized housing and financial incentives for builders to encourage them to meet the housing needs of older persons (CARP and ESAC). With specific reference to the Deaf community, the Canadian Association of the Deaf emphasized that all levels of government must work in partnership with the Deaf community to devise strategies that ensure nursing, retirement homes and other housing options are accessible to Deaf older persons.
Housing options for older persons should recognize the desire for contact with the community and should serve to encourage independence and full-participation in the process.
Access to the Community: The Commission heard that in addition to physical accessibility, housing for older persons must also encourage access to the community. Housing and care facilities for older persons should be close to amenities such as stores and transportation and near to other people. As one group noted, older women “really want to be close to the community so that they can go to church, they can go to the post office, they can go do a bit of shopping, they can go themselves to the drug store...as long as they are mobile, this is their wish” (Older Women’s Network). Housing options for older persons should be developed with the concept of community in mind and encourage the interaction of older persons and younger persons (United Generations Ontario).
Flexible housing: Housing options for older persons should also be designed to adapt to the changing needs of people throughout the aging process. Options should be available based on a continuum of care so that older persons are not required to continually move as physical and/or mental abilities decline (Dieticians of Canada). The Commission heard that the ideal housing option for older persons is linked housing developments that would include supportive housing, nursing homes, subsidized seniors-only housing and some market rent options in addition to amenities such as health clinics, and recreational and educational programs (United Senior Citizens of Ontario). Several groups emphasized such housing options should be available in rural and urban areas so that, regardless of where an older person resides, the option of remaining within one’s own community exists.
Aging in Place
“It is important that every person have the right to live wherever they want to live and [decisions regarding] living arrangements [should ] not just be based on the fact that they have a hearing loss or that they’ve gotten older.”
(The Canadian Hearing Society)
Many of the groups emphasized that "aging in place" is critical to the promotion of independent living for older persons. The Commission heard that most older persons want to remain in their own home and the concept of aging in place is key to fulfilling this desire. As the Canadian Hearing Society and the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors noted, it is important that every person have the right to live wherever they want to live and that decisions regarding living arrangements should not be based solely on aging or the experience of a disability. The Canadian Mental Health Association told the Commission that academic research promotes “aging in place” as a critical element in the health of older persons and as an economical housing strategy responsive to the needs of taxpayers. As such, this concept must be central to any strategy for developing housing options for older persons.
In order for “aging in place” to be realized for older persons, affordable and accessible housing options and in-home supports must be available (Chatham-Kent CCAC). One individual noted that older persons might have little or no choice as to where they will live if they do not have the financial means or family support to remain in their own community. Several groups noted that currently, the availability of in-home supports is limited or not available at all. As Over 55 (London) Inc. told the Commission, community-based services that can allow older persons to “age in place,” including services such as housekeeping, home maintenance, and the provision of nutritious meals, must be supported.
Consultees suggested garden suites (independent housing established on the property of family members) as a housing option that could allow older persons to remain within their own community. Municipal regulations govern the construction of garden suites and stipulate that such units can exist only on the property of a relative. One group suggested that these rules should be amended to allow older persons to occupy garden suites on properties owned by persons other than relatives. This type of arrangement would allow non-relatives to provide support when relatives are not present or do not exist (ESAC). In addition, a number of groups suggested “granny flats” and basement apartments in the homes of family members. However, some cautioned that in some cases, these living arrangements can foster abuse and isolation rather than independence, dignity and full-participation.
Recommendations for Government & Community Action
17. THAT municipal, provincial and federal governments should cooperate to develop a strategy for affordable housing for older persons in Ontario. Options for consideration include rent subsidies, shelter allowances and rental cost protections for older persons. The concept of “aging in place” should be a central consideration.
18. THAT all levels of government engage in efforts to ensure that the social housing supply in Ontario meets the existing and future needs of older persons and other vulnerable groups.
19. THAT the Ontario Building Code Act, 1992 be amended to incorporate the best principles of barrier-free design.
20. THAT developers and builders design and implement barrier-free housing that responds to the specific needs of older persons, including those with disabilities.
1. The Commission will develop a discussion paper on housing and human rights that will address issues facing older persons.
Tenant Protection Act, 1997, S.O. 1997, c. 24.
 Social Planning Unit, Community Services Department, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Social Housing Niagara - Social Housing Newsletter, Vol.1, Issue 1, October 1999, at 1.