John Cufflin has just over a week until he has to be out of the house he's owned for three decades — and a lack of affordable rentals in Calgary means right now, the 76-year-old has nowhere to go.
He blames his situation on the Bank of Canada's recent series of interest rate hikes.
"Previously, the money I was spending on my mortgage was approximately $1,000 a month. And in the last year, that has climbed to $2,600 a month," said Cufflin, who makes $2,200 a month through government support.
"[That] is prohibitive for somebody on a single income. So it just left me now in a position where I had to consider the possibility of selling the home."
The home was sold within a month of his decision. Now, he has an even harder job — to find a place to live among tens of thousands of new Albertans doing the same, in a city with the fastest-growing rents and a shrinking rental vacancy rate.
"It's extremely difficult at the moment ... I need something which is affordable based on the income that I'm receiving."
Some of John Cufflin's antiques. He's sold the pieces he's willing to part with, and has found storage for the rest. (Karina Zapata/CBC)
The avid antique collector is looking at moving in with a roommate, and even returning back to the workforce at 76 years old to hopefully afford his own home again someday.
Those in the business of helping seniors find housing say Cufflin is far from the only one. They say interest rate hikes have created a growing problem across the country, leaving some seniors scrambling for a roof over their heads amid a national affordable housing crisis.
A growing problem
Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of national seniors advocacy organization CanAge, says stories like Cufflin's are becoming all too common.
"With the consumer price index skyrocketing and interest rates fluctuating, people who thought that they had enough money no longer do," said Tamblyn Watts.
It's a double-edged sword. While some older people are forced to sell their homes, it's also getting more expensive to run a property, which often translates into landlords increasing rents for tenants.
"Many, many older people are finding themselves without adequate housing and shelter, having previously owned their own home. And that's never happened before here in Alberta."
Laura Tamblyn Watts is the CEO of CanAge, Canada's national seniors advocacy organization. (Laura Tamblyn Watts/CanAge)
But it isn't just Alberta, she says.
"Certainly other big pressure points like Vancouver and Toronto and Montreal and increasingly Halifax, are coming to the same problem."
She says it's happening in rural communities across Canada, too.
"More seniors are going to be finding themselves moving from having a home to being homeless."
Demand for help is soaring
Larry Mathieson, CEO of Unison for Generations 50+, which runs the Kerby Centre in Calgary, has been watching it all play out.
He says he's seeing more seniors every day who are in a "dire financial situation," with some becoming homeless because they can't secure housing they can afford on time.
Even demand for their free food markets has exploded. It used to draw in a crowd of about a dozen. Now, over 200 seniors line up twice a week for free food, he says.
"[It's] hitting our seniors regardless of whether you own your home or whether you're renting. Both have slightly different implications. But the housing shortage and the housing crisis is impacting all seniors in those categories," said Mathieson.
Calgary's Kerby Centre. Demand for their free food market for seniors has exploded. It used to draw in a crowd of about a dozen. Now, over 200 seniors line up twice a week for free food. (Submitted by the Kerby Centre)
He says so far this year, 1,044 people have gone to the Kerby Centre looking for help with housing. That's up 23 per cent from all of last year, when 852 people sought help.
And even when they reach out for support, Mathieson says they could be in for a long wait.
"Most of the organizations we're working with that have lower-cost seniors housing, there's a six- to eight-month waiting list."
"The reality is, you know, the math just doesn't work. There's just not enough placements that are affordable," said Mathieson.
One of Calgary's largest affordable seniors' housing providers, Silvera for Seniors, currently has 599 people on its waiting list.
Unusual housing solutions
To cope, some seniors are relying on unusual solutions, says Mathieson.
Like "seniors renting a bedroom in a basement or something like that, or couch surfing, or whatever people can do to get by," he said.
Laura Tamblyn Watts with CanAge says this creativity is needed, but as Canada's population rapidly ages, it's time for longer-term solutions — like focusing more on seniors housing in the National Housing Strategy, and making new developments more accessible.
"We need a significant investment, not just in housing and affordability, but also in the services that let people stay in their homes," said Tamblyn Watts.
"We need to make sure that people can age in place, age in their homes."
'I believe I will be OK'
As for Cufflin, he's trying to stay positive.
So far, he's found a place to store his beloved antique collection and his other belongings. But he's still coming up short on a shared space to move into by Nov. 1.
"There are quite a few of those available which are affordable. So I think with the sheer numbers, I should be able to find something."
But he's hoping it's a temporary measure. Cufflin says he wants to own his own home again someday, as he has for most of his life.
At 76, he's considering going back to work to accomplish that goal.
"If I'm able to find a job selling new homes or real estate, that would be my long-term goal."
For now, he says he finds cold comfort in knowing that he isn't alone.
"I believe I will be OK. I'll find somewhere. But not everybody has the wherewithal that a person like myself has, and there's a lot of people who don't have that that I would feel very concerned for."