Report highlights seniors’ needs

Advocate points to lapses in housing, financial aid

British Columbia seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie recently released a report on seniors housing in the province, along with 18 recommendations for improvement.

She calls for increases to seniors’ rent subsidies, a commitment from the province to address the lack of rural seniors housing, a fundamental redesign of assisted living, and more action on getting seniors into the residential-care facility of their choice.

District of 100 Mile House Councillor Ralph Fossum sits on Mackenzie’s provincial Seniors Advocate Council of Advisors, and also takes an active role on the local AGE-FRIENDLY Rural Community Initiative.

“The report gives an excellent summary for anyone to … get a feeling of what the seniors’ housing situation is across the province.”

There is “no question” more housing of all kinds will be needed for B.C.’s aging population, Fossum adds.

Mackenzie highlights “overwhelming evidence” of the financial need for low-income seniors living independently, and calls on the provincial government to increase subsidies from the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program.

“I am very concerned that some seniors are going without some of the basics in order to meet their rent obligations,” she says. “This can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of seniors.”

Fossum says he strongly agrees with increasing the SAFER, but some other aspects in the report will be more difficult to implement in rural areas.

“[Mackenzie’s] first point is trying to keep people in their homes longer, and that is what seniors want. The problem with that is it might work better in larger centres….”

For rural B.C., Fossum says he sees transportation as the biggest stumbling block for seniors to access daily needs and in providing them with home support.

“I think more seniors in the rural areas, like the Cariboo, are going to be faced with a move before people in [cities].”

He strongly supports Mackenzie’s “bold” new recommendation for a Homeowner Expense Deferral Account program that would allow low-income seniors to defer payments, such as hydro bills, home insurance and major repairs.

She suggests the province could pay these expenses on behalf of the senior homeowner and then collect the money back when the house is sold.

“They may need a new roof, but not have sufficient cash flow to cover that, and that forces them to consider selling their place.”

Fossum adds housing is important to all seniors – the 93 per cent who live at home, and those who live in a care home – and many factors can change with the aging process.

“Needs can change and sometimes [they change] quickly. The report is valuable in that it considers all seniors, their needs, their challenges, etc.”

Fossum says he hopes the provincial government will follow through on the advocate’s recommendations in the report.

“I think they have got a basis here for doing some work and taking action.”

The full report can be read at www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca.