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Seniors Housing in Canada: Issue of Affordability

  • Brian Kimmel, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing

Luxury developments for seniors are becoming more expensive, leaving some seniors with fewer housing options. Brian Kimmel, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing, delves into the affordability issue, offering insights into how developers can address the housing needs of more seniors nationwide.

Q: Why is affordability such a hot topic in seniors’ housing development right now?
BK: With the rapid pace of seniors housing construction across the country during the past 10 years, there is a wide selection of homes and care models available for seniors. As a result, availability of suites in these homes is rarely an issue, with vacancy rates across the country ranging from a low of 3.0% to a high of 20%.  However, with land and construction costs rising in tandem, the overall development cost of new seniors homes has risen dramatically as well, reaching as high as $500,000 per suite. In response, developers/operators have increased monthly rents. It is fairly common nowadays to see new homes with rents in the $5,000+ per month range. 

Q: What is the impact of higher monthly rents?
BK: Only a small percentage of the seniors’ population can afford these rental rates. In fact, the 2016 CMHC Seniors Housing Report for Ontario indicates that average rent across the province comes in at $3,499 per month. This number would include rents from older and newer properties. So it’s safe to say that the average rent for newer properties in urban locations would be much higher.

Q: Are there any other trends specific to Ontario?
BK: The report also tells us that the capture rate (the percentage of seniors (age 75+) living in a seniors home) in Ontario for 2016 is 5.4 per cent. As expected, there is only a small percentage of seniors in Ontario that want to be in a seniors home and can afford to be there.

Q: What about other provinces, like Quebec let’s say?
BK: The Ontario experience is vastly different than what’s happening in Quebec. According to the 2016 CMHC Seniors Housing Report for Quebec, the average rent across the province is $1,626/month, and the capture rate is 18.4 per cent. More affordable rents mean that there is a much larger portion of the seniors’ population that can afford to live in a seniors’ home. In fact Quebec has a capture rate that is more than three times higher than the rest of Canada. 

Q: What do the Quebec numbers tell us?
BK: In evaluating seniors housing in Quebec, a lot of questions arise. Why haven’t developers imported the Quebec model to other provinces, enabling more seniors to reside in seniors’ homes?  This is actually a complex question as a result of the many differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada. However there is one key difference that I believe should be assessed more closely by developers. The Quebec model is a very independent living model, which typically consists of full apartment units with very limited services. Unit counts in Quebec properties are typically in the 300 plus range. In other provinces, unit counts are typically in the 100-175 range. 

Q: What can the rest of Canada learn from Quebec?
BK: If developers could build seniors apartments with limited services outside of Quebec, they may be able to develop larger properties with more affordable rents. In this scenario, units would become more affordable to more seniors, naturally increasing the capture rate. Currently the seniors’ apartments that we have seen developed outside of Quebec are typically high-end, luxury buildings and require high rents. It may turn out that building lower end units with more affordable rents could increase the return to developers and make seniors housing more affordable in Canada.