By JO-ANN FERRIMAN
Numerous misconceptions seem to surround the need for affordable senior housing. In light of the upcoming election, there appears to be a need to demystify some of the facts surrounding the subject.
Anyone who attended the Seniors Advocate’s meeting on Salt Spring in September of 2015, or read Isobel Mackenzie’s report entitled Seniors Housing in B.C. would know the need for senior affordable housing is dire.
In her introduction she states, “Without a doubt, the number one issue voiced in town hall meetings and forums from Prince Rupert to Cranbrook, Fort St. John to Surrey . . . and all points in between, was a deep concern around the affordability, availability and appropriateness of seniors’ housing. Daily phone calls to [her] office from the frustrated and, at times, desperate seniors are reiterating this need.”
Although a rent subsidy called “SAFER,” which allows someone to seek a unit on the open market exists, unfortunately it hasn’t been raised in 25 years. There is also a cap on the amount of rent the government will subsidize, or you’re not eligible — further tying one’s hands.
A Broadbent Institute study shows over 55 per cent of those aged 55 to 64 have savings that represent less than one year‘s worth of resources needed to supplement government pension programs like OAS, CPP, etc. And fewer than 20 per cent have enough to support themselves for at least five years.
In addition to these figures, consider the ever-increasing numbers of seniors now showing up at food banks and shelters. It is also reported that some choose between eating or taking the medication prescribed by their doctors. According to Stats Canada, one third of the elderly are at risk of malnutrition.
Add on telephone, cable, clothing and personal care, transportation, MSP premiums, PharmaCare medications, over-the-counter medications, and the biggies: hearing aids and/or dental work. Physiotherapy, which could help with their mobility, isn‘t covered either. (But it is covered in Ontario.) Add-ons to monetary issues? Chronic pain, disabilities, isolation and plain unadulterated fear.
Seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population. As of March 2014 there were 4,352 applications in BC Housing’s Registry for those 55 and over. Of those, 1,782 were 65 and over. Between April and March only 300 seniors 65+ were offered a subsidized housing unit.
And a recent local study pointed out that the Islands Trust has a much higher population of seniors than other places in B.C.
So Why is There Such a Crisis?
The provincial government needs to fess up regarding their responsibility in protecting tenants. While there have been regulations in place under Ontario’s Residential Tenancy Act for decades, B.C. allows what is becoming known as “gentrification.” This is where tenants are being dumped out of older buildings that house a lot of seniors who have been residents for a long time and paying reasonable rents. When the building is renovated the landlord can then charge whatever they want. And because of such a hot market, tenants usually end up having to pay a lot more for much smaller accommodations.
There is another dandy loophole referred to as “gaming the system.” If you’re lucky enough to even have a lease (most rental agreements being month-to-month in B.C.), landlords can ask tenants to sign a “vacate clause.” Why? Because technically, when the tenancy comes to an end, the landlords can then charge whatever they want. More than the rental cap allows!
Because Salt Spring Island is a vacation destination the situation is unique. Stories abound about renters who think they have a year-round situation who have then been evicted come spring because the owner or one of their relatives are coming back. That’s legal also. In addition, shacks and other shameful hovels are actually being rented out to those in desperate need.
Approximately 25 per cent of all properties on the island are now eligible to rent suites across a significant part of the island. How about a subsidy or tax break for employers (some of whom hire seniors), and/or eligible rental accommodation owners to encourage them to make units available at an affordable level? An effective advertising campaign could encourage owners to take such action. Seniors are reliable and can bring with them a wealth of lifetime experience.
So what is the provincial government planning to do about shameful “renovictions” and the “gaming” loophole? Although the NDP has proposed a private members bill several times regarding renovictions, Rich Coleman (deputy premier and minister of natural gas development) has stated that no changes to the Residential Tenancy Act around renovictions were even being considered . . . that current “protection” is adequate. But he did say they’re doing some work on the gaming system.
While advocacy groups and the media keep trumpeting the need for drastic change, Mr. Coleman stubbornly holds on to his archaic and questionable regulations. And seniors lose more ground.
The writer is a Salt Spring resident with an interest in seniors issues.