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In the Toronto area’s heated housing market, three women over 80 face hard choices about whether to stay or go

Inge Csongradi is 89, and has lived in the same North York apartment for the past 20 years.Photography by Emma Kreiner/The Globe and Mail

Emma Kreiner is a Canadian photographer based in Toronto. This year, she was granted an Emerging Photographer scholarship from the Palm Springs Photo Festival.

In recent months, I’ve been paying close attention to conversations about Toronto’s housing market. As cliché as it sounds, something changed when I turned 30 – I started to feel pressure to own a home, no matter how tiny or high in the sky. I’ve started equating owning the place I live to having a heightened sense of security, opportunity and self-worth. Maybe I’ve learned to be practical, maybe I’m fearful or maybe I’m just stuck in a bubble.

Home is universally understood as the place where the heart is. I read “heart” as sense-of-self and belonging, and I’m far from the only one who feels the pressure to build and maintain the ideal home. Although conversations about the roadblocks millennials face proliferate, far less time is spent discussing the challenges faced by seniors to maintain a sense of home.

By 2030, seniors are expected to comprise almost one in four Canadians, and as the cost of living rises, older people must be increasingly creative and resilient holding onto their “heart,” no matter where they live.

I wonder, like many twenty- and thirtysomethings, whether I’ll ever own a home and settle into the passing of time in a place where I can feel secure. Through conversations with friends who have lived many more decades than I have, I’ve learned that coming up with a down payment is only the first of many hurdles in making and sustaining a home through the years.

Inge Csongradi, 89, has rented the same North York apartment for the past 20 years. When asked what she sees for her future, she replied, “If [my granddaughter and I] could afford a place to share, that would be lovely.” For now, Ms. Csongradi is fiercely independent, but she’s the first to concede that “one never knows what will come next.”

Ritsuko Sugiman, 95, is moving into a retirement home.

Ritsuko Sugiman, 95, has a different story. Recently, she decided to sell her home of 60 years to move into a retirement residence. “I cried for a whole week, thinking I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I don’t want to leave the house, but I’m so lonely and the work is getting harder for me.” Although she has put her cherished house up for sale, she wants to have one last Christmas dinner there before starting anew.

Marjorie Stuart, who is in her 80s, traded a house in North Toronto for a condo downtown almost two decades ago and is very happy she made the move back then. She has plentiful outdoor space, a sense of community and security and a spare room where live-in help or family can stay. “For me, this felt like home immediately … the responsibility of a house was lifted off my shoulders. The security here is top notch. If I had a problem and I made a phone call, I would have instant help. But if I hadn’t moved here 17 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to move here [now]. I couldn’t afford to buy this … the prices of housing have just gone so high.”

Marjorie Stuart moved out of her North Toronto home into this downtown condo.

I’ve seen older people struggle to hold on to the feeling of “home” when they’re the only one left living there, to continue to pay for a home once they’ve left the work force, to maintain a home when their physical strength is waning, and to hold onto their identity when they must leave that home behind. I’ve heard their worries about what will happen if they outlive their savings accounts, and how their needs will affect their family members. When I hear their stories, my own fears about entering into the housing market feel much smaller, and my connection to those around me grows.

There is a lot of noise about the rising housing prices threatening the ability of millennials such as me to secure a home, yet as loud as that noise may be, we should also be listening to the voices of our elders, such as Ms. Sugiman, Ms. Stuart and Ms. Csongradi. By tuning into an older generation and amplifying their voices, we bring attention to their efforts to maintain home and identity and encourage younger people to look further on up the road, and outside of ourselves.

Ritsuko Sugiman at home

Marjorie Stuart at home

Inge Csongradi at home

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