New ONPHA report on aging seniors in social housing
Across Ontario, social housing communities are home to a growing number of seniors. Today, there are nearly as many seniors living in social housing units as in the entire long-term care system. An additional 50,295 senior households are on waiting lists for subsidized housing. Over the next decade, the number of seniors in Ontario will double – leading to even greater demand for affordable housing for seniors that meets their needs.
At ONPHA, we have spent the past year investigating the challenges that tenants living in social housing communities sometimes face. In November, we released the report Strengthening Social Housing Communities, based on communication with our members about what happens when vulnerable tenants – including frail seniors – can’t access the supports they need. We have followed up that research with a new report, Aging in Place in Social Housing, which looks specifically at senior tenants and the obstacles they encounter as they age.
The Ontario Government has adopted an “aging in place” philosophy, which argues that seniors should be able to stay in their homes for as long as possible. While many seniors do want to age at home, not all have access to the services and supports that make this possible. Seniors living in social housing often have higher needs, but reduced access to supports compared to their higher-earning peers.
Aging in Place in Social Housing explores the barriers that seniors living in social housing can face. Many seniors that live at home choose to pay for private services, like home care, to help them as they age. But since the majority of seniors living in social housing are low-income, they can’t afford private care. These seniors must rely on public services, which are limited and often fail to meet their unique physical and mental health needs.
At the same time, social housing communities were not designed with seniors’ needs in mind. These buildings, many of which are over 40 years old, are difficult to modify to meet seniors’ mobility and accessibility needs. Many senior residents also do not have a family caregiver or a large network of social supports, meaning high levels of social isolation and making them vulnerable to elder abuse.
While these challenges place senior tenants at a disadvantage, they also have a negative impact on social housing providers and their communities as a whole. Many organizations do not have the capacity to address the complex mental health challenges that are associated with aging, such as depression and dementia, which can affect tenants’ ability to maintain their unit and interact with neighbours. Frail, unsupported seniors are also more likely to rely on costly emergency services, resulting in increased health costs for the Province.
The report offers a number of recommendations to the Ontario Government on actions they can take to help ensure that seniors living in social housing are able to age in a healthy and positive way. These include: providing funding for dedicated supports in social housing communities; expanding the supply of supportive housing in Ontario; helping providers fund building modifications related to aging; and increasing access and options for long-term care.
Seniors are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, and we need to pay more attention to aging processes. Most importantly, governments must recognize that “aging in place” is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and that seniors have unique needs depending on their environment and resources.