Canada’s Supportive Housing Options for SeniorsCanada’s Supportive Housing Options for Seniors

“Supportive housing” is a short phrase that covers a lot of ground. In general terms, supportive housing across Canada offers government-subsidized health and personal care services to residents living in housing that’s often subsidized, wholly or in part, based on income. Supportive housing is open to Canadians who have care needs that can’t be met at home, who don’t need the level of services provided in a long-term care home, and who can’t afford market rental rates for assisted-living housing.

Who operates supportive housing?

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), supportive housing can be built and operated by non-profit groups, private businesses, and the public sector. Within the non-profit category, supportive housing can be developed and run by private groups such as religious congregations, healthcare groups, municipal housing groups, and local housing corporations. If you’re not sure what supportive housing options are available in your immediate area, you can call 311, your regional health authority, or your local community care access centre—or see the information below.

What makes supportive housing different from living at home?

Supportive housing is similar in many ways to private assisted living. Residents have their own living quarters to preserve privacy and independence, and they are able to choose which support services they receive. Safety is the design focus in supportive housing to ensure wheelchair access and to prevent slips and falls. Residents also have 24-hour support available on call in case of a fall or sudden illness. There are rules that govern supportive housing providers, and providers must be licensed if they serve 4 or more clients.

What forms does supportive housing take?

Supportive housing communities can be apartment towers, low-rise complexes, group homes or row homes that have been built or renovated to be accessible for residents with mobility challenges. Some supportive housing is offered in mixed developments that also include market-rate apartment units or condominiums for purchase.

What do residents pay for in supportive housing, and how much do they pay?

Residents or their families must pay an accommodation charge that includes rent (usually RGI and subsidized) as well as any meals provided, building maintenance, and housecleaning services. They are also responsible for any optional services that they choose, like on-site nail and hair care, laundry service, and similar options. Residents either pay rent-geared-to-income (RGI) rates or pay rates set by their province’s heath ministry. Care and support services are subsidized by insurance.

Designated supportive housing charges are set by each province’s ministry of health, and the rates are published on each agency’s web site. For example, Alberta Health’s 2015 rates for designated supportive care range from $1,554 per month for a standard room to $1,893 for a private room. Some residents may be eligible for senior or handicap benefits that reduce their out-of-pocket accommodation cost, and rates may be capped to comply with provincial rules that state how much income residents must have on hand for monthly personal expenses.

What services may be provided to supportive housing residents?

Just as seniors can get help at home with tasks of daily living, medication management, nursing care, social work, and therapy for rehabilitation, residents in supportive housing may receive these services as well, depending on their needs. For example, Ontario Community Support Association members may cook meals, drop by or call to check on residents’ wellbeing, help with exercises to maintain fitness and balance, offer emotional and social support, and help with errands. In British Columbia, the Seniors’ Supportive Housing program includes weekly social events such as game nights, swimming, and films.

When should you consider supportive housing?

Supportive housing is intended for seniors who:

  • can manage most of their day to day affairs on their own
  • currently live in a home that is not adapted to meet their safety needs
  • can respond appropriately and call for help if they have an emergency
  • don’t need daily skilled nursing, and
  • have a low income.

If you think you or a family member may qualify for supportive housing, start by contacting your community care access centre, regional health authority, or local housing authority. These agencies can direct you to the supportive resources in your community and help you determine if you qualify for the program, what rates you will pay based on your income level, and your wait time for placement, which is usually based on urgency of need as well as available units. Each province and territory has its own system for supportive housing access.

You can find supportive housing in your town and read reviews at

Supportive housing options in Ontario

The easiest way to learn about supportive housing options in Ontario is to contact the nearest community care access centre (CCAC), because it’s the information clearinghouse for senior services in your local health integration network. You can also search within your LHIN for apartments with supports to see what’s available nearby. Individual housing facilities may be centered on a particular health need (such AbleLiving’s supportive housing for acquired brain-injury patients) or built around the needs of a particular community (like the Forum Italia non-profit senior apartment tower run by the Mississauga Italian Canadian Benevolent Association).

Some municipal regions within Ontario offer their own supportive housing programs. For example, the Halton Region provides free support services to qualified seniors at 4 subsidized housing complexes in Burlington, Milton, and Oakville.

Supportive senior housing in British Columbia

BC Housing serves as a single point of access for supportive housing placement and referrals across the province. As a provincial program, BC Housing operates some supportive housing facilities and maintains a network of licensed non-profit operators who oversee their own communities.

Support services for all residents in the Seniors’ Supportive Housing (SSH) program include a daily hot lunch or dinner, weekly light housekeeping and linen laundry service, social and recreation options, and round the clock emergency response service. These services are included in the monthly rate, which is set at 50% of each resident’s gross household income. Safety and accessibility features in SSH rental units include grab bars in bathrooms and handrails in hallways, emergency lighting, smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, and showers rather than tubs to reduce falls.

BC Housing keeps a list of supportive housing options that includes information about the size of each community, whether pets are allowed, smoke-free status, wheelchair accessibility, and instructions on how to apply.

Supportive housing for retirees in Alberta

The provincial government of Alberta supports several supportive-housing style programs for low-income seniors. They include the Seniors’ Self-Contained Housing Program, with rent and utilities set at 30% of the renter’s adjusted household income, and the Seniors’ Lodge Program, which is run by local housing management bodies at low rental rates. Other supportive housing resources in Alberta include:

  • Accessible Housing Society of Calgary, whose projects include independent living apartments and condominiums for seniors who need supportive housing, adults with disabilities, and adults at risk for homelessness

Supportive housing resources in other provinces and territories

Different supportive services may be available in subsidized housing and at home in other provinces and territories. See below for detailed information on programs in your area:

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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