Housing Options; so many descriptions and terms - so few appropriate solutions!

Language used to describe seniors housing options can be quite daunting. The following descriptions were found in a Calgary, 55-plus, housing guide:

Independent Lifestyle Apartments; Independent Non-Profit Housing; Subsidized Senior Citizen Apartments; Subsidized Supportive Lodge Programs; Private Supportive Living; Non-Profit Assisted Living; Alberta Health Services Personal Care Homes; Designated Assisted Living and; Care Centers.

A quick read through local papers also revealed:

Assisted Living Residence; Retirement Living; Elegant Senior Living; Retirement Residence; Memory Care; Christian Supportive Living Community; All-Inclusive Retirement Living; Affordable Supportive Living; Affordable Adult Lifestyle Community; Secure Memory Care Unit; Lodge Living for Seniors; Senior Assisted Living Residence; Independent Retirement Living and; Society for Senior Citizens Care.

It all sounds like a version of “I’ve been everywhere man”! But, in spite of this seemingly extensive list of housing options, there really are very few choices. Simply put they are; staying in your own home or; moving into a 'Built-for-Purpose Congregative Living Establishment'. 

Alberta Senior Citizens Housing Association (ASCHA), based in Edmonton, breaks it down into three main categories of housing options:

   Independent Living    (IL)
   Supportive Living      (SL)
   Facility Living           (FL)

They’ve done a terrific job in bringing some clarity to the lexicon.


Speaking of lexicon, the terms used by government to describe seniors housing options are scanty to non-existent.

The talk is typically couched in terms of The Care Industry’ and ‘Numbers of Beds’; very cold, and uninspiring phrases indeed.

In 2015, it was estimated that people were turning 65 at the rate of about 1000 per day in Canada and that number will increase sharply over the following six years. In addition, people are living longer and healthier lives - it’s been said that 70 is the new fifty. It’s going to be a challenge for many of these individuals to ensure the wealth they've managed to accumulate will carry them through to their final years. 

A large number of these seniors will not qualify for government subsidized housing options and they do not want to see their savings rapidly dwindle in the event that they need some period of round the clock attention. Many would like to downsize and would be interested in a facility that will allow them access to more care as it may become necessary.  

One such a model has been described as a 'Three Tier System' wherein people can live independently on their own (in villas or clustered cottages) then when the time comes, move to a space that offers some form of assisted living and finally, if the need arises, to an extended care situation; all within the same establishment.

It’s not that seniors are looking for a hand-out, however they would like to see an attempt to bring some clarity and order to a vitally important stage of their lives – that of where to live and age successfully.

The seniors housing options issue needs fixing sometime and there’s no time like the present. The Baby Boomers may be aging but they are not going anywhere fast.  They’ll be hanging around for way longer than any previous generation did. Successive generations will be living much longer for the same reasons – healthy lifestyles and modern medical science being the main drivers. Serious initiatives by government now will ensure lasting benefits for future generations.

Such initiatives will not only serve a huge segment of the population it will also bring clarity to issues of affordable housing options and operating standards. A rising tide truly does lift all boats and can improve the living standards for everyone going forward, including the Millennials who will doubtless be living beyond their hundredth.

Here's some suggestions:-

1) Home Care seems to be a struggling occupation with no clear charter from any jurisdiction. It needs a clear mandate from government to form a self-regulated professional association to establish educational, fee structure and best practices guidelines.

2) Life Lease lies in between owning and renting.  It has been described as ‘The stability of ownership combined with the flexibility of renting’. A legal agreement outlining the right to occupy a space for a certain length of time changes hands for a sum of money.  Life lease is well suited to people in later life who do not wish to endure the swings and roundabouts of the real estate market. Alberta and other provinces need to pass a life lease act such as Manitoba has done, so that there is a clear understanding of the legal protection afforded. (Note:- Life Lease organizations usually don't offer long term care or similar supportive living. There's usually a clause that states if a person becomes impaired to the point they'd need such services, then a notice period would commence to make alternative arrangements).

3) Perhaps the real estate industry can contemplate a specialist field catering to seniors and offer fee for service much like the financial industry has done.  This way, seniors can readily avail themselves of expert intermediaries to assist in all aspects of seniors housing options.