Real estate | 'Silver tsunami' fuels retirement housing boom

Offerings range from upscale rentals to one-level townhouses


Ed Shanahan's already found his little piece of heaven. The 91-year-old moved into an upscale Vancouver apartment for seniors a year ago and plans to live out his life among friends with all his needs taken care of.

Shanahan lives close to his wife, who is in a nearby care home, and loves the fact that he has a gym, a movie theatre, plenty of activities, and freshly prepared meals each day.

He's also part of a housing trend that's expected to see sharp growth in the coming decades as baby boomers age and leave their old homes behind.

"I wouldn't want to live in any other place," Shanahan said about his unit at Amica at Arbutus Manor, owned and operated by Amica Mature Lifestyles Inc., which creates and runs luxury housing and services for seniors.

"I'm 65 feet away from the most wonderful dining room [and] it has all the amenities, which are endless," added Shanahan, who pays $3,000 a month for his apartment.

"I'm busy reading, entertaining my beautiful wife, and my family is close by," he added.

"We offer independent living, so residents have to be mobile," Amica's president and CEO Samir Manji said of Shanahan's building, where rents range from $3,400 to $6,000 a month.

"We're focused on independent living, like a high-end hotel for seniors," Manji said of Amica, which has 2,800 rental units in British Columbia and Ontario.

But the Amica brand is just one way companies are addressing an anticipated boom in demand for seniors' or over-50s housing as B.C.'s population ages, although large numbers are also expected to age in their longtime homes if practical.

Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association president and chief executive officer Peter Simpson said there's a "silver tsunami" on the horizon and that smart builders will pay attention to universal-design features for aging homeowners.

Features include wider doorways and hallways, non-slip flooring, front-loading washers and dryers, lighting that illuminates common walkways, and rollout shelves or drawers in lower kitchen cabinets.

Installing a reinforced piece of lumber at a prescribed height in a shower enclosure so an owner can eventually install a grab bar is "pennies to do," Simpson added.

A Conference Board of Canada report, entitled Retirement Homes - the Future of Canada's Housing Market?, concluded that Canada is entering an era of rapid aging, but there's little discussion about the impact on the housing market.

The report by Pedro Antunes and Alicia Macdonald said that by 2030, over 80 per cent of new housing demand will come from baby boomers in their golden years, a "stark change from today's situation."

Robyn Adamache, senior market analyst, Metro Vancouver, for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., agreed, although she noted in the future more seniors may opt to remain in their own homes if they can.

Metro Vancouver municipalities are looking at ways to provide alternative or affordable accommodation, with more seniors' residences, laneway housing and secondary suites viewed as potential solutions.

Another option expected to gain traction is rancher-style townhouses that allow seniors or almost-seniors to age in place on one level.

One example is The Greens at Douglas, an 83-unit Apex Custom Homes luxury project in south Surrey with homes for people 50 and over in the midto-high $600,000 range.

"The reason we bought here is because it's one level, with a [developed] basement," White Rock physician Glenn Anderson, 63, said of his and wife Lorna's new 2,400-square-foot home. "The grandkids need a place to play, so we liked the idea of the extra square footage.

"You could easily move a wheelchair in there and put a lift in to go downstairs if you needed that."

"Demand has been outstanding," the project's marketing agent, Sally Scott said. "One of our buyers has been in a wheelchair [and] we had a unit outfitted specifically for him with wider doors, lower countertops, a wheel-in shower and a lift to [the rancher's] basement."

But Scott said the concept of one-level townhouses means developers can't build as many homes. "Developers are reticent to build [rancher town houses] because of the price, but we're inundated with different developers and it's created a buzz."


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