B.C. seniors falling between the cracks as housing costs rise, incomes fall short

Click to play video: 'Report reveals more seniors at risk of homelessness'
Report reveals more seniors at risk of homelessness
WATCH: Radical Resthomes is an alternative housing solution for seniors that is very different from traditional models. Founder Janet Torge joins Global's Eramelinda Boquer to talk about the project – Nov 22, 2023

An increasing number of B.C. seniors are in precarious housing situations, and advocates are calling for immediate action from the provincial and federal governments to turn the situation around.

In a report about seniors’ housing published Wednesday, the United Way BC says the confluence of the rising cost of living, inadequate retirement incomes and limited affordable housing options is putting many on the brink of desperation — a situation outreach workers are seeing daily.

“The reason that we created this report was because we were hearing from front-line service providers about the fact that they’re seeing more seniors than they’ve ever seen before who are coming to them and finding themselves on the verge of homelessness in their 60s or 70s,” the United Way’s Laura Kadowaki said.

“Often these are seniors who have actually worked pretty much all of their life, maybe in a lower-income job, but they had no reason to expect that in their golden years, they would find themselves on the brink of homelessness. This is a really concerning trend and of course, for the seniors themselves, this is very distressing and shocking, and causes significant mental and physical strain on them.”

Story continues below advertisement

Across B.C., the study concluded that 15.2 per cent of seniors are considered low income, and in 2020, one in four seniors had after-tax incomes below $21,800 — almost $10,000 below the minimum wage.

Click to play video: 'Housing crisis bears down on some of Calgary’s most vulnerable'
Housing crisis bears down on some of Calgary’s most vulnerable

“In the past, the government income benefits generally did a fairly good job of keeping seniors out of poverty,” Kadowaki  said.

“And we actually saw that seniors have the lowest low-income rates of any age group. But in recent years, in particular, that’s changed and we now see that their low-income rates are almost double that of any age group.”

Kadowaki said in the Central Okanagan, for example, there are 4,855 senior-led renter households. Sixty per cent of these households, or 2,925,  are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on housing and 25 per cent, (1,200 households) are spending 50 per cent or more of their income on housing and thus precariously housed and at risk of homelessness.

Story continues below advertisement

Ian Gerbrandt, from the Seniors Outreach and Resource Centre in Kelowna, is seeing the faces behind those statistics daily from people who simply thought it would never happen to them.

Get the day's top news, political, economic, and current affairs headlines, delivered to your inbox once a day.

Get daily National news

Get the day's top news, political, economic, and current affairs headlines, delivered to your inbox once a day.
By providing your email address, you have read and agree to Global News' Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

“Five years ago, people were calling us to know their options for home support or assisted living,” he said. “Now they’re walking in our door sitting on the edge of homelessness because they just got an eviction notice, or they just can’t afford the rent.”

It’s a population on a fixed income that is vulnerable to market shifts, he said.

“One of the things that’s alarming in the report is the late-life homelessness and it really is a tragic thing that we’re seeing,” Gerbrandt said. “Basically our system of care hasn’t kept up with the high cost of living, and people are now finding themselves living in their car, or in camps.”

One example in the report comes from Kelowna, Gerbrandt said.

There’s a profile of a woman named Lucy whom he met in the parking lot of a retail store.

Click to play video: 'Seniors plead for better housing protection under Quebec’s Bill 31'
Seniors plead for better housing protection under Quebec’s Bill 31

“Here’s somebody who was a care aid her whole life and because she was a care aide and working in the caregiving economy she didn’t have too much money for retirement,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“You know, she was just caught when she got evicted. Sixty days notice because the landlord wanted to reclaim the space for a family member to move in and she couldn’t make a go in the current market with what she raised.”

Gerbrandt said it “just seems wrong that a woman who worked as a care aide for her lifetime, caring for others, that our system of care wasn’t for her when she needed it.”

There are no quick fixes of the problem but quick action is needed.

“There are all kinds of things we can do to expand the supply of affordable housing, especially rental housing, and that helps everybody,” he said.

“But here’s also recommendations that will help specifically seniors.”

He’d most like to see improvements with the Safer Subsidy that’s available for seniors who rent. He said they haven’t touched the formula for that since 2018, so the rent ceiling they use is divorced from reality, and the province can focus on it right away to make a difference for seniors in every community.

Known as SAFER, the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters, it provides an average $195 subsidy towards rent. That, however, is based on rent ceilings set between $ 734  and $ 803 per month depending on where one lives. In Kelowna that ceiling is set at only $767, substantially lower than the current price of rents which in Kelowna is more than $1,200 for a one-bedroom.

Story continues below advertisement

“I think everybody should be upset by this. I think it’s a little kick in the pants that there are people who’ve cared for others or … work their whole life and they find themselves now experiencing homelessness for the first time in their 50s or 60s,” Gerbrandt said.

“Like the system of care just has to catch up with people aging longer, and it just shouldn’t happen.”

Kadowaki said the United Way is offering several ways to address the situation.

“The first set focuses more broadly on the idea that we need more affordable housing for all age groups, and in particular, we emphasize the need for a specific type of housing known as subsidized rent geared to income,” she said.

“This is where an individual pays no more than 30 per cent of their income for the housing so it’s guaranteed to be affordable.”

To have more of this built, there would need to be additional investments by the government.

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver’s mayors call on senior levels of government for more transit funding'
Metro Vancouver’s mayors call on senior levels of government for more transit funding

“Then the other sets of recommendations, we have our focus more specifically on seniors,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We have examples of recommendations about increasing support for senior housing navigation programs, for ensuring that there are more transitional and temporary housing options available for seniors because homeless shelters can sometimes be very unsafe and inaccessible for frail seniors,” she said.

“Then we also include recommendations about the need to provide more support and low-income rental housing in order to keep people housed as it’s not just about putting them in housing but also supporting them to stay there and age well.”

The report was prepared by United Way British Columbia and the Housing Working Group, a committee of the Community Based Seniors’ Services (CBSS) Leadership Council. The Leadership Council advises United Way BC’s Healthy Aging Department and is a provincially-represented body of leaders working in the not-for-profit and municipal-based seniors’ services sector, as well as older adults who are leaders in this sector.

Sponsored content