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.