Moving downtown

Many of us dream of living out our days in a hand-hewn cabin in the woods or savouring the view from a beachfront condo after we retire from the daily grind. But how realistic is it to sell out and move off into the great unknown?The senior population in Canada will almost double in the next 20 years. That will mean close to seven million people — all needing somewhere to live. And it’s a problem that’s hitting the Baby Boomers from two sides.

Many of the “Boom” generation are currently faced with helping their parents, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, find suitable living accommodation. On the flip side, Boomers themselves are not all that far from having to consider where they will hang their hats after the kids have left the nest or indeed after retirement. While many middle-aged workers dream of the day they can retire to that cabin or seaview condo, the reality is that most seniors will remain in urban areas.

Survey results
A 1996 survey showed that 59 per cent of seniors in Canada lived in a city with more than 100,000 people. Only 17 per cent resided in rural areas. And a recent Royal Bank survey showed that 78 per cent plan to retire ectly where we are now.

Certainly, there’s a case to be made as we age to stay close to such amenities as public transit, nearby hospital care, ambulance service, seniors’ centres, exciting cultural events, convenient shopping and relatives or friends.My former in-laws made the mistake of many retirees. They sold a lovely, mortgage-free bungalow in Toronto and moved away from family and friends to rural eastern Ontario. They bought a picturesque house on a hill, overlooking a small lake.

But they knew absolutely no one in the area.They soon became lonely and isolated – even their two sons didn’t want to drive the long distance very often for a visit. After two years they moved back to the city, having suffered a substantial financial loss in the bargain.While surveys suggest that most of us who live in cities will stay there after retirement, there are those who defy the odds and reverse the common dream by moving from a smaller centre to the big city.

City size
John Neville, actor and former artistic director of the Stratford Festival, set up residence in Toronto after living for 14 years in what many of us would consider the ideal retirement town. Rather than remain in Stratford, Neville, now in his 70s, and his wife Caroline, decided they wanted to be near the big city cultural activities they love — the museums, the art galleries, the theatre and, of course, three of their grown children.

They found the ideal property on a street where one of their sons lives. Neville says they love the garden and the house has a security system, which gives them peace of mind when they’re away. As for the future?

“We might consider a condo at some point, if we find the house becomes too much to handle,” says Neville. “But what prompted the move to the city was that we felt isolated from everything the city has to offer, especially in winter.”

Fit for income

Finding the right accommodation at the right price, especially on a limited income, can be a serious problem for city dwellers of any age but doubly challenging for those on fixed incomes.Barbara Carter, although still in her 40s, decided to open a business that deals with just that problem.

Her Papillon Consulting Services tries to help families deal with the issues of finding the ideal environment for mom and dad.Carter’s service will provide a detailed report after consulting with a client offering the top three best-matched living alternatives based on the client’s financial, emotional and social needs.

“I like to think of it as aging in the ideal place,” says Carter.

“It’s difficult to separate someone from their longtime home, but when the need arises for more hands-on care, it can become necessary.” Carter feels we’re going to have to get more creative in future about the options for retirement living in the city.

“I think we’ll have to learn to share our space,” she says. “If a person has a home that they can’t handle themselves, perhaps a fellow senior could be accommodated there. It would help out two people.”

Alternative housing

Coming up with different creative alternatives in housing is another interest of Carter’s. She’s on the volunteer committee for a Toronto project called SAHIL – short for Stay At Home In Leaside. SAHIL built a small 18-suite apartment building and offered something called a “life lease”. The units were snapped up by seniors, most of whom sold their large houses in the immediate area.

Realtor Brad Lamb, an expert in Toronto’s condo market, says he sees a lot of empty nesters checking out both new projects and resales.

So as Barbara Carter cautions: “It’s never too early to plan ahead. Start looking into your housing options long before you find yourself rattling around in an empty nest, long before you retire and most importantly, long before you become infirm.”