Senior Housing Solutions Lab


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 senior 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. Senior housing solutions help support aging in the right place,foster social cohesion,advance climate action andsupport broader public health objectives, such as increasing active transportation and preventing loneliness and isolation. 


Housing needs  

Housing risk is growing for many populations, notably seniors, 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.  

Senior 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. 

Senior homeowners of single detached homes  

More than half of single detached homes across Canada are occupied by one and two-person households. Seniors occupy a disproportionately large share of these single detached homes as a function of housing and demographic conditions and attrition: kids leave home, a partner dies, and a senior is left alone in their home.   

Senior homeowners create secondary suites or accessory dwelling units 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, landlord capacity over age 70, real and perceived legal risks and relationship management. 


This project’s primary objective is generating housing for those in greatest need by unlocking options for new housing units in single detached homes owned by low income seniors. 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 in seniors’ 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 between seniors to reduce social isolation and support economic inclusion and wellbeing. In the short term, the project will empower seniors to maintain independence while developing new relationships that benefit well-being and mental health. For example, home sharing facilitates shared expenses, affordable housing, companionship, safety and security, self-determination and independence for seniors with wraparound service delivery incorporated into the program structure.In addition, home sharing solutions will help address social isolation and loneliness for solo seniors, which is particularly important given the disproportionate health impact the 2021 B.C. heat domehad on isolated people.  

2. Environmental sustainability  

Reduced per capita GHG emissions associated with building: Single detached homes are the most greenhouse gas intensive dwelling type; doubling occupancy of a one-person household would result in per capita greenhouse gases from buildings being reduced by almost half. Using underutilized existing homes reduce demand for new home construction and also eases demand for new housing construction and reduces urban sprawl to reduce greenhouse gas emissions– two other major sources of GHG emissions.   

Reduced transportation costs and carbon emissions: The most extensively hollowed out single family neighbourhoods are the most mature, generally closer to job and commercial centres. 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.   

3. Affordability for seniors 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 seniors while also generating revenue for homeowners.  

This project can immediately generate new affordable housing alternatives for seniors. In the medium term, the potential for creating affordable housing units in Canada through good policy and program design is high. More than half of B.C.’s 830,000 single detached homes—and 7.5 million across Canada—have only 1 or 2 occupants, many of those seniors 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

Senior homelessness (rising due to lack of available and affordable housing) can be reduced by innovative solutions to increasing inventory of affordable housing: innovative new units on single detached 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 seniors 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 the vast majority of communities across B.C. and Canada, in cities, towns and rural areas.  


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 because a wide diversity of institutions and stakeholders is needed to support systemic change 
  • 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



This social innovations 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 seniors.  
  • Provide space for undertaking a complex and persistent housing challenge for seniors 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, GHG per capita emissions.  

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.  


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
Joy Hayden, Director of Innovation and Engagement, Hollyburn Community Services Society | Project Advisor


For more information, please contact Leanne Sawatzy ( at Renewable Cities.