Edmonton and Calgary Metropolis Councils put seniors’ points on the agenda

From transit to housing, new faces on Edmonton and Calgary City Councils are bringing issues affecting seniors to the fore.

The prospects for progress on issues affecting seniors have taken a leap forward thanks to October’s municipal election, an Edmonton councilman says.

count. Andrew Knack, who has been a senior representative for the Seniors’ Initiative for the past eight years, says the council’s more diverse composition gives him hope that progress can be made on social issues, including shortcomings in public transport and housing for the elderly.

“I think this council will be able to do things that maybe no other council has been able to do because of the range of perspectives and experiences,” Knack said in an interview.

The new 12-member Edmonton City Council has a record eight women, compared to two on the previous council. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is the city’s first mayor of South Asian descent and four council members – including Sohi – are black. The others are Karen Tang, Aaron Paquette and Jennifer Rice.

Transit, snow removal and backyard suites

Knack says he’s confident that issues affecting seniors, like faster snow removal and sidewalk repairs, will be addressed.

Flaws in the city’s new on-demand transit service also need to be addressed, he added. While the seven-day-a-week service has some advantages, there are shortcomings in terms of operating hours and a lack of route locations that worry many seniors.

Knack says he heard from voters in the run-up to the October election that the 9am to 4pm on-demand transit service was inadequate and he hopes the service will be extended beyond those hours.

“I still have a lot of trouble with that because I think seniors have life past four o’clock,” he said. “I think our transit system and any other system that we offer our seniors needs to reflect that.”

While on-demand adequately serves some key hubs such as Westmount and Jasper Place in the West End, others such as Meadowlark Mall – where essential healthcare services are provided – are inaccessible to the service. “It’s not perfect in some areas,” Knack said.

senior apartment

Knack says while better access to affordable housing needs to be addressed, seniors want options beyond supportive and independent housing so they can age appropriately in place.

“Mature communities don’t typically have many options other than bungalows built in the 1950s or 1960s or three-story walk-in apartments with no elevators that aren’t ideal for seniors with mobility issues. New types of accessible “courtyard” housing that include maisonettes and single-story apartments that function more like condos need to be explored,” Knack said.

“That’s actually the biggest problem I hear about. If you’re a senior who isn’t quite ready to move into an apartment just yet, there are very few options in between.”

Calgary Laneway Houses keep seniors close to their families

In Calgary, the election brought about the biggest city council turnover in decades, with 10 resigning or defeated councillors, including the mayor.

count. Gian-Carlo Carra, re-elected for a fourth term, is confident the new council will drive support for innovative housing for seniors.

These include affordable housing and innovative, high-tech homes, or “garden shacks,” designed as supportive housing for aging adults.

“You have seniors on fixed incomes living in homes that don’t work for them,” Carra said. “And they can’t let go because they have no place to go.”

The laneway house concept, originally developed by environmental design researchers at the University of Calgary with input from the medical school, involves the construction of 400- to 500-square-foot mobile, prefabricated cabins that can be rented and placed temporarily in backyards – usually the Apartments of younger relatives.

Units can be customized to include supportive elements such as grab handles, accessible lighting, and medical equipment such as dialysis machines, oxygen machines, or heart monitors.

John Brown, dean of the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Design, describes the units as “a medical device that someone would live in.”

Cara sponsored an application that made the city management partners in a pilot project for the new homes, which have since been tested on two lots with input from health and medical advisors. The city offered advice on how the suites could comply with building codes, as they use an “umbilical” system with the adjacent main house for utilities.

The units will be marketed by a company founded by Brown and private partners, who recently made their first two sales to single families, with construction slated to begin in the New Year. The start-up has attracted interest from several provinces, says Brown, who describes Calgary’s support as “really important” to the company’s growth.

“I’m a big supporter of the project,” Carra said, adding that the suites could be particularly attractive in rural communities where seniors don’t need to be relocated long distances from their families.

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