The Record: Waterloo Region | August 18, 2020
by Catherine Thompson
It was always Anna Weber’s plan to work until she was at least 65. But life sometimes throws you curve balls, and increasing pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia forced her to go on disability at age 59, after decades of working a variety of jobs in manufacturing, as a waitress and in long-term care.
Weber finds herself at age 63, living in a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, where the rent eats up a good chunk of her monthly disability cheque. So she was intrigued when she stumbled across a Facebook site called Senior Ladies Living Together a few months ago.
The Ontario group aims to match up older women as roommates, in an innovative attempt to provide another option for older single women, beyond owning your own home or living alone in a rented place. The group aims to match up roommates to give women more financial freedom, but also to reduce the social isolation that is a risk for many seniors.
“Living alone is not healthy, Weber says. Living with others requires work, but has many benefits. She believes living with others “tweaks your intelligence. You coach each other, encourage each other to do things. When you share with others, the load is never as heavy.”
Jan Reynolds is almost 70 and lives alone in Guelph. Although she relishes her independence after having been on her own for 20 years and running her own business, she would enjoy the companionship of a like-minded roommate. “Just having someone to talk to, to share your day. It’s nice to have a meal with someone once in a while.”
Living with others also provides some security, which can be important as you get older. A health scare a couple of years ago made Reynolds begin to think twice about whether she should continue living alone. “I thought I was having a heart attack, and there was nobody around,” she recalls. “That is scary.”
Both women say steep rents are a real challenge on a fixed income. With almost one in three women over 65 living in poverty in Canada, high rents are a burden for many older women. “I’m paying 70 per cent of my monthly income on rent right now,” Reynolds said. “That does not leave a lot of money for other things.”
It’s an option that makes sense, says Pat Dunn, the Peterborough-area woman who started up the group. Clearly others think so too — since she started the group in February 2019, more than 1,750 women have signed on from all over Ontario, including Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor and Toronto.
Dunn admits it has been tougher to match people up than she expected, as members live all over and are reluctant to move for fear of losing their family doctor, and because the group focuses on making a good match rather than on just helping people find a place to rent. But she firmly believes society needs a variety of housing choices to suit the myriad circumstances people find themselves in, and that Senior Ladies is one viable option.
It’s an arrangement that benefits the larger community too, Dunn says. Research on home-sharing seniors in Australia found an average economic benefit of about $34,000, mostly from lower costs of living and from the social and other supports roommates provide. It also found yearly savings of about $5,600 in hospital and residential care services, since older roommates were less likely to go into residential care and left hospital earlier because they had support at home.
And what landlord wouldn’t want to rent to a couple of older women, asks Reynolds. “I think we’d be fabulous tenants. We’re respectful. We clean things. We take care of things. We’re quiet. We’re not the ones who throw parties all the time.”