• Fair Haven McKay

Why Living Smaller Means Living Larger

It sounded too good to be true when Marie Silva noticed an ad on Craigslist for a brand new building in Burnaby advertising studio suites for only $975 a month.

"I saw what looked like my dream home – an affordable new rental building for people 55 and over with an emphasis on community space and amenities,” she says. “I cried when I found out I was accepted and I moved in a few weeks later.”

Silva, a 58-year-old ESL teacher and yoga instructor, is part of Canada’s fastest growing demographic – people aged 55 and over.

The 2016 Census found that for the first time in history, seniors outnumber children in Canada. There are now 5.9 million people over the age of 65, 10.8 million Canadians over the age of 55 – that’s 29% of the current population.

While most of the debate about affordable housing in Metro Vancouver is focused on millennials, an equally important demographic left out of the discussion is Canada’s aging population.

As Canadians retire and look to downsize, here are some more stats to think about:

  • The number of Canadians over 65 has jumped by 20 percent since 2011 – the general population grew by five percent.

  • Life expectancy continues to climb – with men living on average to 84 years old and women to 87.

  • The ratio of women to men increases with age – there are 54 men to every 100 women over age 85.

  • Single seniors had a median after-tax income of $26,100 in 2016, or $2175 per month.

  • The average cost of a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver is $2,100 / month.

There are more seniors, most of them women, living longer, with limited incomes in an increasingly unaffordable housing market.

The World Health Organization defines healthy aging as a person’s ability to meet their basic needs, retain independence, make decisions, be mobile, maintain social relationships, and contribute to society.

“Building affordable homes to promote healthy aging and a feeling of community is important,” says Joy Parsons, CEO of Fair Haven Homes, which built McKay Apartments near Metrotown. Of the 145 independent living homes, 113 are studio suites renting out at well below average rates in the area. We wanted to maximize the number of people we could provide housing for while ensuring the space is accommodating, inviting, and livable. This is the first building. We’re opening another a few blocks away this fall.”

People who are calling these new, lower maintenance spaces home say they’ve been afforded an opportunity for premium living that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

72-year-old Dave Peacock spent four years in an extended care hospital, recovering from a stroke. He says his new studio feels spacious and new. “There are fantastic common areas to chat with neighbours,” he says. “But for me, it’s the privacy I love. My home is about two-thirds the size of my last place. And everything is state-of-the-art.”

Before McKay Apartments, Silva was renting a studio in North Vancouver for $1,300 a month, more than half her monthly income. She says, “here, the bus stop is right outside. I’m allowed to have my dog, Gypsy. I’m a 10-minute walk from Metrotown. I’m planning to start a yoga class and a book club for all my neighbours.”

By building smaller homes non-profits are able to offer larger amenities, like common areas to socialize, courtyards to garden, and pathways to exercise. It helps residents maintain active social circles while staying active and independent themselves. If that’s the key to healthy aging, it’s time to build more.