The Bittersweetness of Finding (and Providing) Seniors’ Affordable Housing

Gael Gilbert’s Reflections

I have the great privilege, and joy, of being in a position to offer affordable apartments to seniors in need, in our community. It is sometimes quite bittersweet too as I will explain. This week I showed two bachelor units to three different women, all 71 years old, all facing evictions and all living in one-bedroom units for which the rents exceed their CPP incomes of about $1,300 a month. With the tours come the stories. Stories of struggle.

A single parent cleaning offices overnight and homes during the day to keep bills paid and children barely fed, another woman who cared for aging parents and had to use all of her financial resources to support them, and a third who worked for a major retail company which closed. Each woman stood in the centre of a vacant unit and cried. Cried for the years of hardship, the loneliness and most of all the recognition that in order to move into 144 she would need to lose her dining set. For so many of us, the table is the place where family memories were made and the prospect of having to lose that link can trigger many emotions.

Affordable and adequate housing is not a privilege, it is a necessity for all. We cheer our frontline workers these days, express care and concern for those working as cashiers and delivery drivers and health care aides. We recognize that for a society to be healthy we have an obligation to look after each other, and that includes ensuring that those on the margins, can afford to survive, and flourish.

We don’t like to think about our seniors living in poverty, in cars, in shelters, but that is what is happening for some now. We have the capacity to become creative, to turn unused student apartments into seniors’ housing, we can advocate with our community leaders, we can create second suites and coach houses, we can create a community where there are no seniors on housing waiting lists.