Baby boomers

New housing options for seniors in Canada

Baby boomers are demanding residences that cater to their wants and needs
Monday, April 21, 2014
By Erin Ruddy

Post updated on April 22, 2014. 

Forget about the needs of Generation Y for a moment and consider the fact that senior citizens make up the fastest-growing segment of the population. Developers are taking note, and housing options for seniors is now a growing market in Canada.

In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that 5 million residents aged 65-plus were living in Canada, a number that is expected to double in the next 25 years when retirees aged 75-plus will account for approximately 10 per cent of the population.

For housing developers, this creates an opportunity. According to the 2011 Census of Population, 92 per cent Canada’s seniors lived in private households, with the remaining eight per cent residing in collective dwellings, such as retirement homes or health care facilities. As the number of aging Canadians increases, so will the demand for housing options — especially the kind that allow individuals to stay in one place throughout all stages of mobility.

Current players in the retirement sector are well aware of the changing attitudes towards what’s often dubbed “the golden years”. Improved lifestyle and affluence have led to higher expectations among the aging baby boomers who expect hotel and resort-like settings coupled with excellent service.

Chartwell Retirement Residences, Canada’s largest seniors housing provider with 186 facilities across the country, offers a wide spectrum of housing options ranging from complete independent living to long-term care. With improved suite features and on-site services like housekeeping, physiotherapy, events and activities, these are not the retirement homes of previous generations.

“The business model has changed considerably over past 10 to 15 years,” says Maxime Camerlain, vice-president of marketing at Chartwell. “The model of renting out a room and congregating in common spaces has developed into a cross between apartment and condo living. Today’s units have a living area, a kitchenette, and the added advantage of a community-based environment that satisfies safety and security needs.”

Camerlain explains that this array of additional services is what sets the sector apart from rental or condominium. “It’s not just about managing a property,” he says, “it’s about running a high quality dining room, providing healthcare, transportation services and overseeing the well-being of the residents. It’s an all-encompassing business.”

And this business is expected to continue to grow and change. “What people in the future will be looking for is choice,” Camerlain says.

Tapestry Retirement Communities is another player in the retirement living field. Owned and operated by Concert Properties Ltd., its first property opened on Vancouver’s west side just 10 years ago. Today it operates two more facilities: one in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood and the other at Village Gate West in Toronto.

And Adena Waffle, director of seniors housing at Concert Properties Ltd., says that the company is not stopping there.

“We are working very diligently at expanding our portfolio, focusing on the larger markets of Canada,” Waffle says.  “About 12 years ago, we saw an opportunity. Seniors homes were much more institutional back then — they weren’t homes. Given the in-flux of aging baby boomers and the Concert history of building homes, we wanted to bring that to them.”

Waffle explains that at the heart of the Tapestry brand is the importance of personal choice: “We provide our residents with a wealth of options and services that allow them to live the retirement lifestyle that’s right for them.”

Entering the market

The CMHC series Housing for Older Canadians — The Definitive Guide to the Over-55 Market was created to help potential developers attract this increasingly important demographic and stay on top of the latest trends and tendencies in their target market.

The five-volume series is available online and describes the challenges and opportunities that result from new and emerging trends in seniors housing.

These trends include:

Commitment to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency

In the face of increased competition, many operators of retirement homes and long-term care facilities are looking for ways to improve the environmental sustainability of their projects while lowering their utility costs.

More diversified programming and amenities

The generation now entering retirement is, on average, better educated, more active and healthier than previous generations of retirees. Older Canadians are therefore demanding more diversified services, programs and amenities that offer greater independence for men and women.

Greater emphasis on marketing and promotion

A competitive market means that developers and sponsors are increasingly looking for more innovative ways to market and promote their accommodations. While brochures and flyers remain important tools, operators are increasingly turning to the Internet to create awareness and inform consumers on the choices that are available to them.

More flexible, welcoming and accessible building designs

In contrast to the institutional feel that characterized many “old folks’ homes” in the past, seniors’ residences now often resemble hotels, with larger suites and common areas, better heating and cooling, and more advanced communications and safety systems. Buildings designed today are also more flexible than buildings in the past, which enables them to change and adapt as the market evolves.

Improvements in technology and options

Continuing improvements in technology have led to the introduction of such features as sophisticated resident tracking and emergency response systems, enhanced ventilation systems, anti-microbial carpets and new food preparation systems. The increased use of the Internet has also meant that computers and wireless networks are now standard components in almost all new senior-oriented residences.

Erin Ruddy is the editor of Canadian Apartment Magazine. 

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