Home services, rental rates top concerns: B.C. seniors’ watchdog

Premier John Horgan pledges action on rental housing in 2018

B.C.’s seniors advocate continues to be concerned about declining home support services, day programs and affordable housing.

“These results should … be of concern to the government, as lack of support in these areas will drive some seniors into residential care, which is a more costly intervention and one that is least preferred by seniors,” said Isobel Mackenzie in her annual report released Thursday.

“We know there are up to 15 per cent of seniors living in residential care who could live in the community with proper supports.”

With 32,000 more seniors in B.C. than last year, Mackenzie said she’s concerned that services needed to keep seniors living on their own aren’t keeping up with the population growth.

Seniors who rent are most at risk

Seniors can receive a rental subsidy under a program called the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters, or SAFER.

The report says the subsidy cap hasn’t changed, causing the number of people on a waiting list for a subsidized unit to go up almost 16 per cent. About 19 per cent of seniors’ households are renters, compared to owners. Those who qualify for subsidized housing wait about 2.3 years for a unit.

“The economic reality for seniors who rent is the most dire,” Mackenzie said. “We know that seniors have the lowest median income of any age cohort over 25 and we know that the poverty rate for seniors increased by 24 per cent since 2005, the largest increase of any age cohort.”

In a year-end interview with Black Press, Premier John Horgan said his government will take action on rental housing in 2018.

We’ll have a comprehensive housing strategy that will involve the whole continuum of housing, not-for-profit, purpose-built rental housing, market housing,” Horgan said. “We’re not building the housing. The public has to understand it’s not about government building 100,000 homes.”

The government’s February budget is also expected to make additional moves to deter foreign speculation in the B.C. housing market.

We need to address that, and it’s not going to be as simple as waving a magic wand or snapping your fingers,” Horgan said. “It’s going to be a sensitive intervention, but we need to correct the challenge we have where people are vacating the cities rather than making them vibrant.”

For those who own homes, increasing property taxes have also been a struggle for roughly 80 per cent of B.C. seniors, causing the number of applications for a deferment to double since last year.

Access to transportation crucial

For the first time in four years, HandyDart has seen a 10 per cent increase in ride requests, with a five per cent increase in new clients.

“HandyDART can mean the difference between being a total shut-in and able to get out two or three times a week,” Mackenzie said.


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