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Seniors housing supply an issue in the North: Advocate

British Columbia Senior's Advocate Isobel Mackenzie was in Prince George attending a seniors housing symposium. Bill Phillips photo
British Columbia Senior’s Advocate Isobel Mackenzie was in Prince George attending a seniors housing symposium. Bill Phillips photo


Ah, the Golden Years. Sell your house, move into a condo, have enough money left over to live the life of Riley.

It’s not quite that easy, especially in the North.

“One of the first things I heard was housing and then transportation,” said Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. Senior’s Advocate. “And they’re linked. When you look around the province there are situation that unique to certain geographies in the province and housing is one of them.”

Mackenzie was in Prince George last week attending a seniors housing symposium, organized by the Council of Seniors.

While housing for seniors is an issue throughout the province, why it’s a problem and what the solutions are are different in each area of the province. The North has its own challenges, supply being the biggest one.

“In the Lower Mainland (seniors) are owning a home that worth over $1 million,” she said. “If you’re a senior in the Lower Mainland you can sell your house, go and buy a condo and you’re probably going to put a bit of money in the bank.”

In the North, that house owned by a senior is probably worth around $300,000.

“You could sell it and maybe buy a condo, but you’re not going to have as much to put in your pocket and there are no condos to buy,” she said. “There’s no houses, that are one level.”

Builders are building for families, she said, and that leaves seniors out in the cold.

“Where are they going to move to if they sell their two-storey house in the suburbs of the city?” she said. “Unlike the Lower Mainland, the Interior to some extent and parts of Vancouver Island where the private sector will come in and build (senior’s housing) … there’s not enough volume in the North and not enough profit for the private sector to come in and build that. Governments are going to have to come to the table in a more significant way in the North.”

Whereas the southern parts of the province affordability might be the issue, in the North it likely isn’t … it’s more a case of there’s just nothing available for seniors to buy.

“Maybe we (should) think differently in the North where it’s not all about rentals,” she said. “What’s the role of government to play in helping to increase the supply of bungalows, of owned condominiums, of owned co-ops, of things that are going to be of value to seniors to live in.”

What happens when there isn’t enough seniors housing and as seniors become more frail, they move into a care facility prematurely. Mackenzie said, province-wide, the percentage of seniors prematurely in a care facility is about 15 per cent but in the North, it’s 25 per cent.

“That’s because there’s nowhere else to go,” she said. “When you get outside of Prince George, it gets even tougher.”

She says one of the key things for seniors is to think ahead and look for a suitable place.

“But, in the North, the options of places to move to aren’t there,” she said.

Part of Mackenzie’s job is to lobby government to help, especially, in the North.

“What I’ve challenged government to do is think differently in the North, than in the rest of the province around what kind of housing they need,” she said. “I think the government can have a role in co-ops … the senior has some equity … but there’s nothing for them to buy.”

She says the federal government has a role to play as well.

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