‘We are being ignored:’ older women in Oshawa, London and other Ontario cities struggle with rising cost of housing

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Published May 4, 2023 at 10:00 am

Katherine Goodes has always enjoyed her own company, but at the age of 67 she’s going to be moving in with three strangers to help make ends meet.

Goodes, who has worked for decades as an editor in the education sector, doesn’t have significant savings, her monthly government support cheques barely cover the rent on her apartment in Oshawa and she has no prospect of retiring unless she finds a way to reduce her basic expenses.

With few other options available, Goodes says she has to make a drastic change.

“It keeps getting worse and worse every day, every week, every month,” she says of the growing cost of living. “Every time we turn around, there is no escape from the rising costs of everything.”

Goodes is among the older women struggling to make ends meet as rent and the cost of groceries rise at a rate their incomes cannot keep up with.

That concern was reflected in the Institute of Aging’s 2023-28 strategic plan, which said that while older adults often face poverty, older women – who tend to live longer than men – are particularly affected by it.

In Goodes’ case, she realized she needed a more affordable place to live. That prompted her to reach out to Senior Women Living Together, a non-profit connecting older women who want to share homes due to financial issues or loneliness.

She’s set to move into a farmhouse east of Norwood with three other housemates in June. The new living situation will see her pay $600 in rent a month, less than half of what she pays for her current apartment.

She says she’s looking forward to the “financial relief” but is a little apprehensive about how she will adjust to sharing a home with three other women.

“It is a challenge to bring four different personalities together,” she says. “We will have to try to make it work because financially we have no other option.”

Pat Dunn, the founder of Senior Women Living Together, says her organization has helped Goodes and 46 other older women to find housemates across Ontario since it was established in 2019.

Dunn, who now lives with two other women herself, struggled economically after her husband died when she was 64. At one point, she says, she started googling how to safely live in her own car.

“I cried myself to sleep that night, woke up the next morning and said there has got to be a better way, I’m going to find a better way,” said the 73-year-old.

Dunn created a Facebook group with the idea of finding other older women in a similar situation who she might be able to share the burden of rent with. She says she was soon overwhelmed by how many others were going through the same challenges.

“I thought ‘Oh my God, there is so many of us,'” she says, adding that the response motivated her to eventually create her organization.

While there are financial support programs available for older Canadians, there’s a lack of supports specifically for the economic challenges older women face, she says.

“We are the most needy demographic in the country … and we are being ignored,” she says.

Sarah Kaplan, the director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, says older women have faced economic struggles for years.

“It has always been the case that senior women have been more likely to be living in low income or poverty than senior men,” she says.

Women often earn less in their lifetime than men due to reasons that include a gender pay gap, the fact that they’re more likely to be caregivers to children early in their careers and also caregivers to aging parents in their later earning years, Kaplan says.

Another factor is that women often live longer than men, she says.

Indigenous and immigrant women, as well as non-binary and transgender individuals, may also earn less during their working years due to labour market discrimination, making them more likely to live in poverty later in life, she says.

“It is just a series of compounding factors that mean that senior women are less likely to have accumulated savings that would keep them, if not out of poverty, at least out of low income,” she says.

In London, Mona Wuytenburg has noticed the need to better support older women.

She’s the director of Karen’s Place, a soon-to-open transitional home that will house five women above the age of 50 experiencing homelessness due to substance use, mental health issues and financial challenges.

“They’re not seen, they’re not heard, but they’re out there,” Wuytenburg says of older women facing housing challenges.

“They’re vulnerable and they need our help.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2023.

Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press

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