Toronto retirement home rents soar, putting some seniors in limbo
Average rent for a one-bedroom space in Toronto retirement residences now costs more than $4,700 a month.
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Before Patti Elizabeth’s aunt passed away, she was paying $5,200 a month for five years to live in a single room with a shared kitchenette in her old-age home in Whitby, Ont.
Elizabeth, 58, fears she’ll never be able to afford to pay that much for a retirement home.
She says her generation, the baby boomers, are lucky because some of them have pensions. But she worries their kids won’t. Her kids won’t be able to afford to pay for her to be in a home, either.
“They don’t have the jobs; they don’t have that kind of money. I couldn’t possibly pay that, $5,000 is just an incredible amount of money,” she said. “Who has that?”
That’s why she finally decided to welcome another of her elderly aunts into her home. She’ll soon move in.
“I think that we need to be able to do that for everyone,” she said. “It just makes me crazy.”
As housing prices across Greater Toronto rise and supply falls, the same is true for retirement residences, forcing seniors to deplete their savings, move in with family or move out of the city towards relative affordability.
These homes — the all-inclusive kind you pay for, not the long-term care buildings you wait for if you’re extremely ill — can afford to name their price in a hot market.
This year, vacancy rates in Ontario old-age homes reached their lowest point since 2001, dipping to 10.4 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s latest seniors’ housing report.
While the total supply of seniors’ housing grew by 2.4 per cent to more than 57,000 spaces in 2017, Ontario’s 75-plus demographic grew by 2.9 per cent. That growth is expected to more than double to six per cent by 2022.
“Demand is increasing at a faster rate and that’s why we saw the vacancy rates drop in 2017,” said CMHC’s principal market analyst, Jean-Sebastien Michel.
In Toronto, where prices are highest, the report warns that seniors have “very low or even no new supply in the pipeline.”
And new units are now seldom offered at lower price points. In 2014, 9.3 per cent of all units in the GTA were for rent at a price point below $2,500. Today, only 5.7 per cent of all spaces are available in that price range.
Michel says new retirement residences are increasingly building two-bedroom units so that they can charge more, making it harder to find smaller spaces.
“(It’s) going to be a challenge for suppliers to get enough supply into the market,” he added. “In the next five years you will see a large increase in the number of 75-plus people seeking spaces.”
In the GTA, the majority of all rental spaces for seniors now cost more than $4,000 (54.1 per cent). The average monthly rent for a standard seniors’ living space in the GTA has risen to $4,159 in 2017, up from $3,825 in 2014.
In Toronto, Etobicoke and Scarborough, a one-bedroom unit runs an average monthly rent of $4,746.
Deb Hallet, who lives in Oshawa, says her 91-year-old father Syd was repeatedly sent home from the hospital while battling Alzheimer’s after he’d broken his hip when he couldn’t afford a retirement home in Scarborough — where her sisters lived — on two pensions.
“The cost was ridiculous,” Hallet said, adding that the options for home care were no less expensive.
As a result, regions such as Niagara, Windsor and Kingston have become destinations for Toronto’s elderly, according to Michel.
“Toronto actually has a fairly low capture rate in terms of the proportion of the 75-plus population that’s in a seniors’ home,” he said, as the elderly either go outside the city for retirement homes or stay longer with family to avoid the costs.
These decisions are usually made as a last resort, when seniors can no longer hang onto their independence or lose mobility, Michel says.
“People like to age in place. They like their home, they like their family being able to come visit them,” he added.
There are some options for seniors, though they’ve become increasingly limited.
Pat Irwin started ElderCareCanada to help advise the children of seniors on the various paths forward after her father felt abandoned with no choice in his residence in the late 1990s.
“I literally put my hand on his grave and said nobody else is going through this where you just don’t know what your options are,” she said.
Long-term care in nursing homes is subsidized by the province, but Irwin says they’re getting worse and waiting lists are growing while accepting only the severely ill.
But long-term homes can be the only options for in-limbo low-income seniors who don’t want to move to the “boonies,” according to Irwin.
Seniors can no longer say no to acceptance into a residence either, which prohibits them from cluttering up lists.
With nowhere to turn, many are forced to downsize from homes to apartments in order to hire round-the-clock care to the tune of what can be $600 a day, according to Irwin — who says less expensive bare bones residences are “few and far between.”
Maxime Camerlain, Chartwell’s vice president of real estate integration, says retirement residences must do more than build more units to bring prices down if they want to accommodate a baby boomer generation he thinks will redefine old age in other types of homes if they don’t.
“We’ve long realized that if we didn’t talk to them, they would turn around and build it themselves,” he said.
He says residences in Quebec have already successfully done that by offering more choice and low baseline prices with the opportunity to buy into other features, rather than the all-inclusive resort style they’ve tended to use in Ontario.
While good food and central locations are still major factors, Camerlain says affordability and choice are becoming more important to seniors.
He promises that Chartwell’s new ‘Sumach’ retirement residence, which is set to be completed in the Regent Park area by 2018, will offer some apartments in the low $2,000s.
And as life expectancy rises, baby boomers must now prepare to live to 100 instead of 85.
“You always say you’re going to save your money for a rainy day and I say ‘well it’s raining and is your nest egg enough?’ ” Irwin said.
“What you’ve got is the polarization that’s everywhere else in our society. You’ve got people with money who can basically do what they like, then you have the other side basically living on Canada pension and not much more.”
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