The New York Times  notes that every day for the next 19 years 10,000 people in the United States will be reaching the age of 65.   “By 2035, one in three American households will be headed by someone 65 or older (and 9.3 million of those will be one-person households”.  These numbers mean a drastic change is needed in providing appropriate access and housing for seniors, something that a recently published report  from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, “Projects and Implications for a Growing Population: Older Households 2015-2035 Housing,” shows is sorely lacking.

The single family homes in suburbs and in Metro Vancouver are designed for people who drive, and have families. Often these houses are located in areas with restrictive zoning that will not allow the house conversion into multi-unit senior residences, and are not in walking distance to shops and services, meaning seniors that are no longer driving can be further isolated.

Years ago we called seniors’ housing “homes” and now they are becoming “communities”. Access to this type of seniors’ facilities is in an hourglass shape, with people at the lower-income scale qualifying for housing, and those at the upper level of the income scale able to afford luxury options. In Vancouver a monthly bill of $7,000 for an upscale bachelor room and three meals a day in a private care senior’s facility is not unexpected. And the care can be uneven and unsteady-as the New York Times’ Allison Arieff noted, It’s not like they’re worrying about cultivating repeat customers.”

Recognizing that only one-quarter of seniors in the US live in cities, it is suggested that the “senior” term be tossed,  and instead focus on innovative models such as co-housing, or matching seniors with students in need.  “Marin Villages, in Northern California, put together networks of volunteers to organize activities, cultivate community and supply rides and other services to seniors, though it does not offer housing“.


A new term, NORCs, for  “naturally occurring retirement communities” — are existent in many dense cities such as New York City. De-stigmatizing housing for older people through good design, as architects like David Baker and Anne Fougeron are doing in California, is also heartening, as is Perkins Eastman’s recently released report on biophilic design in senior housing (in non-architect-speak, integrating nature into architecture)”.

Technology can also be part of the answer, with Uber and Lyft services, on demand grocery and meal delivery. Seniorcizing homes with step free thresholds, one storey living, and the adaptation of bathrooms and kitchens for wheelchairs can also assist. Several Metro communities are already requiring some of these adaptations in their new builds.  It is surprising that businesses are not falling over themselves to cater to this growing segment of the market, which will look at accessible housing the same way that we view affordable-something that should be easily in reach for all the right reasons, but lacking despite the insatiable demand.

"What's or the floor?"


  1. Thank you Sandy for posting once again on this topic. It just confirms that creating compact, walkable neighbourhoods filled with amenities assists people of all ages. When people stay in the neighborhood, it is a stable neighbourhood.
    Retrofitting a house or apartment for ageing doesn’t necessarily mean a gut job. Even simple grab bars can make a difference for those of us with arthritis. Often stairs can be used as exercise devices. Walking to shop for groceries can be pleasant, healthy and sociable activity, perhaps aided by small folding carts on wheels to carry bags. Moving to a lower floor and renting out the upstairs would be a way to attain a stairless level for wheelchairs and aching knees while also deriving an income beyond inadequate pensions.
    All too often the above scenario is rare. Forcing seniors to move away from suburban, pedestrian-averse neighbourhoods where a car is needed to fetch just a litre of milk and a prescription, and other individuals are imposed upon to assist, may be the standard treatment today. But one can get quite incredulous when one really thinks about how ridiculous that is.

  2. Meanwhile, virtually every Vancouver new SFD is the antithesis of Universal Design – the godawful 7% solution.
    Why are all these repellent 3 level houses built? To maximize square footage. Which means a big basement. That vastly more valuable above ground living space is lost in the process doesn’t seem to concern anyone.
    The builder, of course, pushes for the 7% FSR. He makes much more money digging a big basement than building an above ground 6%.
    The buyer thinks they’re maximizing their return because they get to stick two prairie dog domiciles in the basement – one legal – horrible, tiny, sunless, viewless, depressing suites. Dismal 7% Vancouver Specials – no part of which is accessible to someone in a wheelchair.
    That leaves the mutant laneway houses for the oldsters. The good life.

    1. Hey Arnie, that cannot be applied like a blanket over the entire Metro.
      There are ways to design homes that are pre-fitted (or have space previsions) with one-person vertical lifts, sloped stair lifts and all kinds of things that meet standards for the elderly and people with disabilities.
      We have a land management problem here, and houses must now occupy a smaller footprint to address affordability. Going vertical is the best way, not necessarily with large floor plates.

  3. Vertical is good – subterranean is not. I’ve never met anyone who said they wanted to live in a basement as a prarie dog. It’s the nadir of the Vancouver rental experience.
    In retail, if ground level achieves $80./sq’, the basement is going to fetch $30. – for storage. It is not a salubrious situation. Probably why there are so many irritable renters hanging out at Starbucks.
    Meanwhile, basements cost much more to build for the really inferior space below, and provide about 400 sq’ less above on a standard size lot.
    It’s bizarre how Vancouver has become a city of landlords – two tiny suites in the hole below, and a laneway out back. It would make more sense to invest in a 3-storey walk-up. If they were more readily available through zoning changes, there would be a stampede of interest – from renters and investors.
    With enough suites the building can be professionally managed. Oldsters and families live at ground level. The young and energetic climb the stairs. Serious soundproofing between floors is essential – and no smokers. Preferably no dogs, too. There are always issues with smokers, dogs, and parking. There are a lot of these buildings in Kits; quite a few in Hastings-Sunrise.

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