Seniors make up majority of N.S. households waiting for public housing

Seniors make up 64 per cent of the eligible households on the wait list for public housing in the province, according to data from the Department of Community Services. That's 2,221 seniors coming to the government for help just to have a place to live.

Middle-class seniors find their pension is not enough to keep up with the cost of housing

Seniors say it's hard to find housing that's affordable on a fixed income, especially in Halifax where the average cost of a rental is $1,100 a month. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

The dream of a relaxing retirement is turning out to be pure fantasy for some Nova Scotia seniors who are struggling to scrape together enough money to find a good place to live. 

Seniors make up 64 per cent of the eligible households on the wait list for public housing in the province, according to data from the Department of Community Services. 

That's 2,221 seniors coming to the government for help, though one advocate said the actual number of older Nova Scotians in need is much higher.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," said Bill VanGorder, a spokesperson for Carp Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for older Canadians.

"Those are usually the most desperate people and there are many others that are right on the line between really needing to get into some kind of subsidized housing and being able to subsist where they are now."   

Pat Kipping says despite the high cost of housing, she wants to stay in Halifax because it's her 'soul's home.' She's been living in the city since 1974. (Submitted by Pat Kipping)

There are many more seniors that need help and simply don't apply for public housing because the list is so long, he said.  

"Finances for a tremendous number of seniors in our province is a huge issue, the few of us that are lucky enough to have put away enough money or been fortunate enough to have jobs that allowed people to have pensions, they're in the minority."

Pat Kipping, 66, has shared a three-bedroom apartment with a roommate for the last few years. Now she and her roommate are going their separate ways and Kipping is looking for a place to live in Halifax that won't devour her savings.

But she's not having much luck.

"Middle-class people like myself, especially single women who've lived a relatively housing-secure life during our working years, are now finding that our pensions are not enough to afford the going rate, the market rates," said Kipping. 

Bill VanGorder is the senior spokesperson for Carp Nova Scotia. According to its website, the organization believes "an aging society deserves to live a life that is free from discrimination, age-related stereotypes and financial burdens." (Submitted by Bill VanGorder)

In Halifax, where the average rent is $1,100 a month, most seniors would have difficulty finding decent accommodations, said Jim Graham, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. 

"Even at the low end of market, $800, $775 plus utilities, seniors would be really challenged to make a go of that," he said.  

In order to find houses they can afford, some seniors end up in buildings that are run-down or in less desirable neighbourhoods and farther from services.

Graham and VanGorder agree a lack of affordable housing is a problem. They say all levels of government need to focus on building more subsidized housing and improving the housing that already exists.

The province has already done work to help address those concerns, according to Nova Scotia's minister for the department of seniors. Leo Glavine said the government has set up a tax rebate program, supplied money for people to repair their homes, and introduced a heating rebate program, all of which support seniors. 

Leo Glavine is minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Seniors. (CBC)

As well, the Department of Community Services said increasing rental supplements for low-income Nova Scotians has helped shorten the wait list for public housing by 25 per cent since 2015.

Glavine said the province is also working to provide additional public housing and will be using federal money to do so.   

"There's no question that ... one of our government's challenges is to provide that adequate level of housing," said Glavine. "The trend for housing is in the right direction but the need is still very strong."

Kipping would like to see programs where people live together and share bills and chores become more widely adopted in Nova Scotia. She also hopes a 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy unveiled by the federal Liberal government late last year will help give her more housing options.

One advocate for seniors says there are many older Nova Scotians that simply don't apply for public housing because the list is so long. (CBC)

The strategy includes a $15.9-billion national housing co-investment fund that aims to help build 12,000 new affordable housing units for seniors.

Kipping is hoping to stick within her budget when she moves into a new place next year. Paying for a place on peninsular Halifax that costs more than 30 per cent of her monthly income would only hurt her in the long run, she said.

"I would have to cut back on the second-most expensive thing, which is food and things that keep me healthy: supplements, exercise classes and yoga classes and all those kinds of things," she said. 

"I look at those as a real investment in my future and in my health which pays off because I will hopefully be less of a burden on the health-care system." 

About the Author

David Burke

Reporter

David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.