Housing Solutions Lab

Housing options to support strong communities, affordability and climate action

Many older homeowners are interested in exploring housing options that could help them age at home, such as homesharing, or renting out secondary suites and coach houses. But uptake remains low for many reasons. This new lab will identify simple, scalable paths forward with advantages for seniors’ health, housing and the environment.

The Housing Solutions Lab wants to hear from North Shore homeowners interested in services to support homesharing or renting out secondary suites and coach houses. 

SFU Renewable Cities and Hollyburn Community Services Society launched the Housing Solutions Lab in January 2023. It runs until 2024 with workshops and interviews with seniors to identify barriers, solutions and a roadmap to scale solutions province-wide.  

Please consider participating in this important lab by requesting a workshop invitation and/or filling in a 10-minute survey. 

Our two-hour workshops begin in March 2023 and feature: 

  • Opportunities to connect with other North Shore homeowners interested in exploring homesharing, secondary suite and coach houses 
  • Discussions about supports and services to help homeowners successfully age in place 
  • Identifying solutions that help clear the path for transitions to these new housing options  
  • Learning about how homesharing, secondary suites and coach houses support seniors’ healthcare, the climate and the housing crisis 

We’ll share our learnings from each project phase and give you opportunities to connect with future lab activities. 

What is this program?

SFU’s Renewable Cities and Hollyburn Community Services Society are excited to launch Housing Solutions Lab: North Shore Homeowner Options!

We will explore housing opportunities for homeowners (55+) living on the North Shore who are interested in options such as secondary suites, coach houses and homesharing.

We are inviting interested older adults on the North Shore to identify barriers and collaborate on solutions through surveys, workbooks and workshops.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has contributed catalytic project financing to the Hollyburn Community Service Society. Additional funding partners include Vancity and the North Family Foundation.

Why is it important?

Our goal is to co-create a roadmap for solutions that build social connection, address housing affordability, offer options for aging in place and positively benefit the climate.

Why does this matter?

  • Housing affordability and security is a growing issue on the North Shore, and across Canada
  • More than half of single detached homes in Canada are occupied by only one or two people, and older adults represent a large portion of this. If a small percentage of those who were interested created additional housing units, it could positively impact the number of units available
  • Options such as secondary suites, coach houses and homesharing can offer social and economic benefits, reducing social isolation and providing additional income
  • Densifying housing units reduces the per capita green house gas emissions associated with building

How to get involved:

Live on the North Shore and interested in contributing to this project? See the options below:

Next steps

Our initial workshops, workbooks and surveys will run until early March 2023.

Stay tuned for:

  • Open houses and surveys to co-design solutions (spring 2023)
  • Solutions analysis and feasibility studies (fall 2023)
  • Road mapping – key stakeholder engagements to share findings (winter 2023-2024)

See us in the media

Stay tuned for stories on Housing Solutions Lab: Northshore Homeowner Options

What you can do:

Questions? Contact Rebekah Parker, Events and Engagement Coordinator: rebekah_parker@sfu.ca


Project goal: Bridge the chasm between climate action and affordability with solutions that cost effectively take advantage of immense under-utilized assets across our communities. 

Renewable Cities and Hollyburn Community Services Society are working with older adult  homeowners living in single detached homes to identify and address barriers that prevent them from considering options such as home sharing, secondary suites and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Housing solutions for older adults support aging in place, foster social cohesion, advance climate action and support broader public health goals, such as increasing active transportation and preventing loneliness and isolation.


Housing needs  

Housing risk is growing for many populations, notably older adults, due to an aging population, inadequate affordable housing supply and rising living costs. Limited public resources and high land values challenge affordable non-market and market rental solutions.

Older adult homelessness in B.C. has quadrupled in the past decade, and thousands of seniors living on the North Shore are at risk of homelessness. B.C.’s seniors’ population is growing. There is an urgent need to explore new, integrated approaches to affordable housing for seniors.

Older adult homeowners of single detached homes  

More than half of single detached homes across Canada are occupied by one and two-person households. Older adults occupy a disproportionately large share of these single detached homes due to housing and demographic conditions such as: kids leaving home or a partner dying or moving to care home.

Older adult homeowners create secondary suites or accessory dwelling units (ADUs) at much lower rates than younger Canadians due to a range of barriers such as socio-cultural norms around living in a single detached home capacity to be a landlord at age 70+, real and perceived legal risks and relationship management with potential tenants.


This project’s primary goal is generating housing for those in greatest need by unlocking options for new housing units in single detached homes owned by low-income older adults. This project aims to better characterize barriers and develop a roadmap that contributes to integrated, systemic solutions. We will learn from collective knowledge on home sharing, secondary suites and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in older adults’ single detached homes.

This project supports the following National Housing Strategy priority areas:

  • Supporting sustainable housing and communities
  • Supporting a balanced supply of housing: More than half of all dwellings in Canada are single detached homes. Household occupancy is falling across all housing types, particularly in single detached homes. Gentle intensification of single-family neighbourhoods can increase the share of rental and home sharing units for smaller households. These solutions have applications in metropolitan centres, suburbs, small towns and rural areas.


1. Social and economic inclusion

This project will foster relationships among older adults to reduce social isolation and support economic inclusion and wellbeing. In the short term, the project will empower older adults to maintain independence while developing new relationships that benefit well-being and mental health. For example, homesharing facilitates shared expenses, affordable housing, companionship, safety and security, self-determination and independence for older adults. Service delivery will be incorporated into the program structure. In addition, homesharing solutions will help address social isolation and loneliness for solo older adults, which is particularly important given the disproportionate health impact the 2021 B.C. heat dome had on isolated people.

2. Environmental sustainability  

Our sustainability goals are:

Reduced per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with buildings

Single detached homes are the most greenhouse gas intensive dwelling type; doubling occupancy of a one-person household would result in the reduction of building greenhouse gases per capita by almost half. Using underutilized existing homes eases demand for new home construction and reduces urban sprawl – two major sources of GHG emissions.

Reduced transportation costs and carbon emissions

Adding secondary suites or accessory dwelling units in mature single-family neighbourhoods has potential to cut transportation costs and carbon emissions, increasing walkability through proximity to key destinations and infrastructure.   Many of these neighbourhoods face reducing population as residents age and move to other areas.

3. Affordability for older adults in core housing need

Thirty-nine percent of senior homeowners with mortgages are in core housing need in B.C. Twenty percent of B.C. seniors spend 30% of income or more on housing.

The 2011 North Shore Seniors at Risk of Homelessness Assessment found that “fixed income seniors who have been long-time residents of the North Shore are increasingly at risk of losing their housing as they face rising real estate costs, increases in rent, property taxes and changes to the Residential Tenancy Act. The number of seniors experiencing core housing needs has been steadily increasing.”

This project is exploring solutions such as how local non-profits that could manage and support secondary suites or home sharing arrangements for older adults while also generating revenue for homeowners.

This project can immediately generate new affordable housing alternatives for older adults. In the medium term, there is high potential for creating affordable housing units in Canada through good policy and program design. More than half of B.C.’s 830,000 single detached homes—and 7.5 million across Canada—have only one or two occupants, many of those older adults and empty nesters. Adding a secondary suite or a home share to just 10 percent of homes could create 85,000 new housing units in B.C. and 750,000 in Canada, increasing housing stock and revenue streams for homeowners.

4. Reduced homelessness

Older adult homelessness is rising due to lack of available and affordable housing. Innovative solutions to increasing inventory of affordable housing can reduce homelessness. For example, innovative new units on single detached land parcels, wrap around services , and mitigating home sharing issues.

5. Canadian economic growth

Affordable housing supply is a major constraint on regional prosperity, with provincial and national implications. This project would contribute to regional housing supply, increasing discretionary income and supporting economic growth. Two older adults in a home sharing environment will reduce day to day living expenses, providing more money to spend in the community.

6. Partnerships for more holistic responses

This project aims to build, strengthen and mobilize rich partnerships across the North Shore, Metro Vancouver and B.C. Scaling is a priority: the housing and demographic conditions that create this immense, untapped opportunity exist in many communities across B.C. and Canada, in cities, towns and rural areas.  

Strategy: Social Innovation

This social innovation project will help advance a creative and emergent process, bringing together diverse institutional players and meaningfully engage with end users.

Social innovation labs are an innovative approach to tackling complex societal challenges that require systems change. They provide a safe space for diverse perspectives to come together, for assumptions to be questioned and to experiment with housing solutions. – CMHC 

The lab will focus their efforts on the following:

  • Emphasize work across diverse institutional and public policy spaces to align policies and programs and scale successful strategies for older adults
  • Provide space for undertaking a complex and persistent housing challenge for older adults living in single family dwellings through an innovative and emergent process that looks at the challenges from a systems-level to address interrelated elements of social isolation, risks of homelessness, vulnerability, affordability, greenhouse gas emissions per capita

The result will be better understanding of barriers as well as best practices to inform successful policy and programs for replication across B.C. and Canada.


Key aspects of our methodology include:

  • Strategic mapping of end users, partners and stakeholders to help understand, develop and implement solutions
  • Meaningful, emergent engagement processes – systemic change needs the support of a diversity of institutions and stakeholders
  • Collaborative critical analysis and iterative solution development
  • Integrated design thinking that transitions from inspiration, ideation and implementation, to iteratively improving solutions with strong multidisciplinary insight and end user participation
  • Multi-facetted communication such as written and visual storytelling



Alex Boston, Renewable Cities & ZEBx, Fellow – SFU Centre for Dialogue | Project Director
Leanne Sawatzky headshot wearing a black blazer, brown hair, and blue patterned shirt
Leanne Sawatzky, Director of Operations and Special Projects, Renewable Cities | Project Manager
Leya Eguchi – Director of Family Programs, Regenerative Finance, Hollyburn Community Services Society | Project Advisor
Rebekah Parker —Renewable Cities | Events and Engagement Coordinator
Rebekah Parker —Renewable Cities | Events and Engagement Coordinator


For more information, please contact Rebekah Parker (rebekah_parker@sfu.ca) at Renewable Cities.