One Size Fits All Social Housing? Nope. Doesn’t Fit Seniors

afforable apartments
Affordable apartments open in Prince George photo by Province of British Columbia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
An affordable housing building for seniors, families and people with disabilities.

Is the idea of mixed age social housing a clever attempt to build more complete (and therefore presumably healthier) housing communities? Or is it just a government slapdash cost-cutting convenience?

The decision in British Columbia to mix younger adults into buildings that had been built for seniors isn’t working out well. The consequences for seniors are literally terrifying, and threaten to last their lifetime.

It turns out that the reasons behind this decision are rooted in human rights. In the 1970’s and 80’s there was a move to close mental health hospitals and other facilities that provided permanent homes for their residents.1 Needless to say, the transition wasn’t always well supported and it wasn’t always smooth.

The skills and behaviours for living in an institution are not the same as those for living in rental housing. For example, paying rent was a new thing. These new renters were paying for their new housing from their social assistance income, which was well below the poverty line. Without transitional support, people who left institutions were at great risk to become homeless.

Add to that, anyone under 65 who was moving from and institution to the community was not eligible for social housing. Opening seniors’ buildings to single adults under 65 was a practical solution.

This article is particularly interesting because the author Josh Cook, makes a case for more tenant support workers in these buildings. Their task? Working with the tenants, young and old, to make the buildings safe and comfortable for all residents. The role of tenant support is integral to Housing First, which has demonstrated success in helping single adults to leave the streets and settle successfully in permanent housing. Why not apply the same idea in social housing that is home for single adults?

Read more in The Province: Josh Cook: Mixed-age approach to social housing is failing low-income seniors in B.C.

Footnotes

  1. Skeptics saw this as a cost cutting measure, but there were also supporters, including human rights advocates and facility residents, of whom many had lived in institutions for all of their adult lives.