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Addressing the Urgent Need for Age-Friendly Housing

By Peggy Edwards, The Council on Aging of Ottawa

First published in the Fifty-Five Plus Magazine, September 2023

mother and adult daughter at table talking

Everyone deserves a suitable place to call home. Age-Friendly Housing meets the needs of the growing number of older people in our cities and communities. It is defined by 4As.

Affordablecosts less than 30% of your before-tax income.

Accessible for people with all kinds of abilities and disabilities.

Appropriate: adequate, safe, secure, well-maintained, energy efficient, fits space requirements; and is in neighbourhoods that allow for connections with people, pets and nature, and getting to key destinations by foot, bicycle or public transportation.

Available: sufficient age-friendly housing stock for homeowners and renters, as well as innovative living options such as co-living, intergenerational housing and assisted living dwellings.

Housing for older people includes a continuum from independent living to long-term care. This article focuses on independent living in the community.

Why Do We Need Age-Friendly Housing?

Mary Appleton, outgoing Co-Chair of the Age-Friendly Housing Committee of The Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA) says, “Age-Friendly housing benefits everyone, including older people, young families and people living with disabilities. Keeping older adults in their own accessible home, with supports, is good for them and their families, and can significantly delay the need for institutional care.”

This speaks to the fact that over 80 percent of older adults want to “age-in-place” and “in-community”, rather than move to a retirement or nursing home. Providing age-friendly housing options enables older adults to do this, leading to an improved quality of life … while saving the healthcare system a lot of money at the same time.

The demographics and circumstances of older people speak volumes about why there is an urgent need for age-friendly housing.

  • The number and percentage of older persons is dramatically increasing all over Canada.
  • Ottawa’s older adults are the fastest-growing age group in the city. The over-65 population is currently 17% and is expected to reach 25% by 2035. There is an expected 183% increase in older adults between 2011-2031 in rural Ottawa areas.
  • Affordability is a major concern, especially for renters with 54% of older renters spending 50% of their income on housing. In Ottawa, the proportion of older people living with low income is about 12% (65+) and 15% (75+). These numbers are higher for older women (14% and 17%). In some neighbourhoods, over 50% of older adults live with low-income. The reported number of older adults experiencing homelessness is increasing, especially for women. From 2015 to 2016 there was a 20% increase of women 50+ and a 31% increase of women 60+ using shelters in Ottawa.
  • Accessibility: In 2017, the proportion of older adults living with disabilities was 38% (aged 65-plus) and 47% (aged 75-plus years). The lack of universal design in houses, apartments, condominiums, and other built environments limits where individuals can live and function independently for as long as possible within their own communities. People are required to renovate or relocate as their functional abilities and challenges (mobility, sight, hearing and cognition) change over time due to aging, injury and/or debilitating diseases.
  • Appropriate: Many older adults live in inappropriate housing (e.g., too large, in poor repair, far from health care and family, dependent on a car, non-accessible design)
  • Available: While many older adults want to rent or downsize to a suitable age-friendly living accommodation, they are hard to find. Those that need subsidized housing have a long wait. The social housing waitlist in Ottawa is over 12,000, with older adults making up over 40% of this list.

Age-Friendly Housing is a Human Right

Age-Friendly Housing is more than a “nice to do”. The United Nations has argued that the right of older persons to adequate housing is not merely “having a roof over one’s head”, but is “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity”. Seven criteria must be fulfilled for the right to adequate housing, namely, legal security of tenure; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location; and cultural adequacy.


We all have a stake in building and supporting age-friendly housing. Governments, private industry, non-governmental organizations and faith communities can invest in policies, programs and housing (new and existing) that:

  • Increase Affordability, particularly for renters, older women who live alone and other persons with limited incomes, and older persons in vulnerable groups (e.g., Indigenous, racially diverse and LGBTQ2+ communities).
  • Increase Accessibility, by supporting regulations and by-laws that increase the availability of accessible housing and the use of universal design. Provide help for older people and people with disabilities who need to modify their homes (in private homes, rented apartments and condos).
  • Invest in and reduce barriers to innovative housing solutions for older people such as home-sharing, intergenerational living, co-operative living, as well as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities with a Supportive Service Program (NORC-SSPs) that provides health, social and recreation activities.
  • Increase access to home and community care that enables people to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible.

And perhaps most importantly, older people and their families can speak out about the urgent necessity and value of age-friendly housing.

References/To Learn More

The Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA). (2023). Fact sheet on Accessible Housing and Universal Design

COA. (2021). Fact Sheet on Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities – Social Support Programs (NORC-SSPs)

COA. (2022). Fact Sheet on Solving the Municipal Housing Problem for Older Adults

COA. (2021). Housing Options in Ottawa: A Guide for Older Adults

COA. (2022). Ottawa’s Older Adults: Keeping pace with the growing, changing, aging population

United Nations. (2022). Note by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly. Older persons and the right to adequate housing