It appears that there are two population cohorts being severely pinched~younger people trying to find a place to live in Vancouver with salaries that are not rising at the epic speed of housing costs, and seniors who may not own their own home and find limited income to pay for rents. On the weekend I went to a suburban Starbucks and noticed an older SUV idling in the parking lot. There was a Christmas wreath in the window, and two older women in the front seats. They were clearly living in the car, and had driven up to Starbucks to access the free wifi.
As reported in the Vancouver Sun “while the debate over the city’s housing crisis often focuses on millennials, people who work with seniors say elderly adults have lower incomes and fewer supports to withstand being displaced from their homes. “People end up living on the streets, or living in their cars, or crashing with friends, sleeping on the couch,” said Linda Forsythe, a board member of 411 Seniors Centre Society. “That used to happen a lot with young people,” she said. “They could tolerate it quite well, and sort of get on with their lives, whereas, with older people, you don’t have a chance to make more money. That’s the problem.”
There is a provincial grant to help elderly renters called Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters or SAFER. The subsidy ONLY applies to rent up to a certain “cap”, which “in the Lower Mainland is $765 a month, even though the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,223, according to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation.” And in Victoria or Kelowna? The rent cap is $667.While rents have risen by 45 per cent over the past ten years, the cap has only risen by 9 per cent according to Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. ‘s seniors’ advocate.
Seniors who own homes and condos can defer their property taxes but may have challenges paying for strata fees, extra assessments or utility costs. The seniors’ advocate is even saying that seniors are ending up in residential care because they cannot pay for their rent. The B.C. government does intend to build 114,000 affordable housing units with 2,400 slated for seniors. But for seniors that are one or two bills away from not being able to pay their rents, upping the cap for subsidy for rent may be essential. The challenges are compounded for immigrant seniors who also face a language barrier in determining what services they are eligible for and how to access them.
“Lola-Dawn Fennell, executive director of the Prince George Council of Seniors, recently told a House of Commons committee that most clients come to the centre in crisis.“When you are already stretched to your monthly income and emotional and physical limits, a broken-down furnace or a bill collection notice or one more hour of caregiving can become a last straw,” she said. “Yes, we see suicidal seniors.”