A White Rock senior who has spent two years advocating for regulation of rental rate increases at retirement homes in B.C. says new efforts by the province don’t go far enough.
Larry O’Brien, who lives at a private assisted-living facility in White Rock, joined forces with another senior in 2020 to form a group to federally represent the residents of retirement homes, titled the Canadian Association for Retirement Home Residents (CAFRHR).
“It was our cause to create and build an across-Canada association that would fill a very badly needed service,” O’Brien said.
“Seniors in retirement homes need rental protection. There are no rent controls. The can put it up five per cent or six per cent a year if they want.”
Currently no regulation on rent in private assisted living facilities
The B.C. Senior Living Association and the B.C. Care Providers Association exist, O’Brien noted, but don’t seem to actually represent the needs of residents in retirement homes.
After forming a board of directors and building a membership list of more than 100 members, O’Brien said B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie – who declined their invitation to sit on CAFRHR’s board – invited them to discuss their organization via Zoom at a Nov. 4, 2020 meeting.
When Mackenzie issued a news release on Nov. 3, 2020 – the day before the scheduled meeting – that stressed “the need for residents and family members to have a collective voice in the decision making process” and recommendations including one to “create a provincial association of long-term care and assisted living resident and family councils,” O’Brien and his group thought they were in for some good news.
But after the Zoom meeting the next day, “we felt that the contribution we received from the seniors advocate was that of disinterest and discouragement. We had entered the meeting with the expectation of encouragement, co-operation, and possibly funding. We received none.”
A week later, the board passed a motion to suspend all organizational activity, as its members “felt it would be impossible to compete with a B.C. government-sponsored and operated association.”
When asked by Black Press Media why there are no regulations to protect rent hikes in some retirement homes, Mackenzie replied “That’s a very good question.”
However, the issue isn’t as cut-and-dried as some may believe, she noted, and pointed to a release from the health ministry issued earlier this month, on Nov. 3, 2022, that says people living in long-term care (LTC) homes will have more input into issues that affect their daily lives as the result of changes to resident and family councils.
“Additionally, the Ministry of Health will lead a provincial committee with representation from the regional networks to focus on addressing provincial-level issues,” the release said.
Mackenzie said the release means people and families living in and affected by long-term care “will have a strong voice at the local health authority level and at the provincial level.”
Where issues can arise, Mackenzie said, is when differentiating between long-term care, assisted living and independent living, there are different acts and regulations that affect each differently,
Most – about 80 per cent – of long-term care is publicly funded, she said.
Private assisted living and private independent living facilities work differently than public, long-term care facilities.
Rising inflation means rent, hospitality package rates may rise as well
Seniors who reside in private, independent living facilities have the same protection as any residents of British Columbia who rent, under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), which set the annual allowable rent increase for 2023 at two per cent.
The province introduced a freeze on rent increases during the pandemic, and since then, allowed landlords to increase rent by 1.5 per cent in 2022. Landlords in B.C. can only increase rents once per year.
Since 2018, the rate of increase has been tied to the rate of inflation.
But seniors who live in private assisted-living facilities are not protected by the RTA. Instead, those residents fall under the purview of the Community Care Assisted Living Act, which offers some protection not granted under the RTA.
Both acts offer protection in different areas, Mackenzie said.
Some of the costs of living in independent or assisted living comprise what is commonly known as a hospitality package, which includes costs such as room cleaning, the preparation and service of meals, etc. – a cost not included in rent and therefor not protected by the RTA, she noted.
“Picture a building with 100 units. Fifty are designated as assisted living and 50 as independent living. The 50 units in assisted living don’t have rent protected under the RTA; the 50 in independent living would be protected by the RTA,” Mackenzie explained.
Now, there’s high inflation for the first time in a long time and rates are starting to rise, she said.
Her office is already conducting a review of assisted living, she noted, and she and other provincial representatives are acutely aware of issues such as increasing rents and hospitality package costs.
“I think it’s going to become more of an issue – we have identified it, we identified it (as an issue) a few years ago… these are very real issues.”
The review into the province’s assisted living is expected by late spring.
She also emphasized that there are options for those who can’t afford private long-term care.
“Everybody in the province is entitled to receive subsidized long-term care if they need it,” she noted.
Inflation also affects the cost of food and running such facilities.
“What’s happening right now may be a catalyst… I think this bigger issue around what are we calling independent living, what are we calling assisted living – I think we’re going to start to wrestle that to the ground.”
O’Brien still feels there should be an independent organization that represents all B.C. seniors in retirement living, and that the most recent government announcement doesn’t go far enough.
“I don’t think it’s anywhere close to enough,” he said.
LTC family councils tend to be short-term by the nature of the organization, O’Brien noted.
He is hopeful someone else might pick up the torch, as he doesn’t feel much has been accomplished for independently representing seniors in retirement living in B.C.
“I hope somebody comes along and picks up where we left off,” he said.
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