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Seniors' housing choices evolving

A local resident delves into the growing and changing market for seniors' residences

The Springfield Retirement Castle, with Abe Simpson and other neglected grandparents dozing in their chairs, is not the image Kate Mancer wants people to think of when they think of a seniors' residence.

Mancer, a seniors' housing market analyst with Lumina Services, says the types of retirees has expanded and so has seniors' housing.

"It's very far removed from that time capsule," she says of seniors' housing, compared with the Castle.

But people still approach that stage of life with trepidation, particularly when looking for a home for a loved one, she adds.

"People are not aware of how things have changed in the last 10 or 20 years," Mancer says.

Mancer has lived in Burnaby since 1991, when she moved here from Winnipeg. She has a background as an economist in the housing industry.

She began looking into the seniors' housing industry after preparing a report for the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1999 about three types of seniors' housing, she says. Now it is her entire career focus, she adds.

She advises developers and managers of seniors' housing throughout the country, including facilities in Burnaby such as the Mulberry Retirement Residence, about the needs and desires of seniors when it comes to housing.

Last year, Mancer published a book on the subject: The Future of Seniors Housing - Planning, Building and Operating Successful Seniors Housing Projects.

Seniors' housing can generally be broken down for two age subsets - the 55- to 74-year-old set, and the over-75-year-old set, Mancer says.

But beyond that, housing ranges from age-restricted condominiums or rental apartments to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, she says.

To add the confusion of so many options, Mancer says, there are not many clear definitions of the options available.

Active adult housing, for example, is a vague category that most often means owning a unit in a low-density housing complex, and this option is more prominent in the United States, Mancer writes in her book. But in Ontario, active adult housing includes care homes providing services such as medication assistance, oxygen and registered nursing staff.

"The industry over the years has tried to get a standard set of definitions," Mancer says, but adds terms can change from one province to the next.

A new direction for the industry is aging-in-place communities, also known as campuses of care, where active seniors can live in one residence and move on to housing with advanced care options in the same community when necessary, she says.

Life lease housing is growing in B.C., she adds. With life lease, seniors buy a unit in a building and sell it back when they leave, according to Mancer's book.

The best way to navigate the housing options is for seniors and their families to talk to people in the industry, she says, or read books or blogs on the subject.

Burnaby currently has about 30,000 people over 65 living here, according to Mancer, and that is projected to increase to 70,000 by 2035.

Burnaby homeowners are fortunate in that the value of their homes is fairly high, compared with homes in smaller communities where prices haven't risen as much, she says.

"In Burnaby, seniors are in a much better position," she says. "It's a distinct benefit."

People tend to stay in their communities, or near their families, when they enter seniors' housing, she says.

Seniors need to consider their needs and what makes them comfortable when searching for the right place, she adds, as well as future needs.

For more information, go to Mancer's blog at

Mancer's book can be purchased on the website, or through

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