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More affordable housing for seniors, pet owners needed in Calgary

By Christie McCaw, April 3 2019 —

Affordable housing is a fundamental right and a basic necessity that all people deserve access to. The City of Calgary, landlords and property management companies are not doing enough to ensure access to affordable housing for all — including those who are also pet owners.

According to the City of Calgary’s Affordable Housing Strategy, a person’s housing should not cost more than 30 per cent of their monthly income. It’s a challenging target to stay under for those who are on a low, fixed income due to their age or health. Recently, concerns have also emerged for Calgary seniors who cannot locate affordable housing because they own a pet.

A recent Calgary Herald article discusses the idea that more needs to be done to assist those who own pets and are in need of affordable housing. Pet ownership provides benefits for those who live alone, such as companionship and motivation to go out and socialize with community members. As Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states, a person’s basic needs are food, water, safety and shelter. But as you move closer to the top of the hierarchy, the needs for love, belonging and inclusion to feel part of the community emerge.

For some people, these needs are fulfilled by their pets, who they consider another family member, treated with unconditional love and included in everyday activities. In a Newport Academy study, researchers found that when people own a pet, their blood pressure is lower, muscles are more relaxed and breathing and heart rates are more regular. When combined, these factors promote lower stress and anxiety. This study shows the health benefits and positive impacts of pet ownership.

In another study by Canine Comfort, researchers interviewed over 900 individuals aged 65 and older and found those who were pet owners visited the doctor 16 per cent less than their non-pet-owning counterparts. Allowing pet owners to keep their loved ones with them while living in affordable housing could have a ripple effect on the health system and allow more opportunities for those requiring doctors or specialists.

In addition, not all seniors can afford to or want to move from their current household into an alternative living arrangement such as an assisted-living facility or nursing home. There are many benefits for seniors to age in a place where they feel safe, secure and comfortable. In a research article, Ann Bookman discusses the importance of community in the ageing population and how relationships can be mutually beneficial for all members in the community. Communities need a balance of resources and facilities for people of all ages to use. If you lived in a community where there were only small children with lots of playgrounds, what would your community look like once most of the children grew up and moved away? It would lack a variety of resources and become stagnant. Communities need a variety of people of all ages to allow for continual development and growth to take place.

Rental property owners and management companies may have concerns with the potential costs for allowing animals into housing facilities. But is there not also an increased risk for damage if you rent to families with children? I know from having my own children the additional wear and tear it can cause to a house. However, it would certainly be deemed unethical if families were charged more for rent based on the number of children they have. So is it okay for people on a fixed-income with a pet to be treated any differently? There should be more affordable housing opportunities within the city that permit animals so seniors and others living on fixed incomes have housing options and are not forced to give up their beloved pet.

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