Seniors’ advocate calls for housing reforms

There is room in assisted living but rules and low-income supports need improvement, Isobel Mackenzie says

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

Too many seniors are going into residential care when they could still be accommodated in assisted living, due to rules that are “outdated and too restrictive,” B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says in a new report.

The report found a 10-per-cent vacancy rate for assisted living facilities, meaning space is usually available, at least in urban areas. It calls for a “fundamental redesign” of regulations for registered assisted living, to change spousal eligibility and reduce the number of higher functioning seniors moving to residential care.

More than 90 per cent of B.C. seniors live independently and 80 per cent are homeowners, who should be able to apply for a provincial loan against equity to pay for repairs, the report recommends.

“A new roof or the need to fix a dilapidated deck may be a cost that forces a senior out of a house they have loved for decades,” Mackenzie said. “Living in a house that is worth $500,000 or even a million dollars does not mean much if you’re living alone on $24,000 or less, which is the median income of seniors in B.C., and you can’t find the cash to pay the bills.”

Health Minister Terry Lake said he supports the direction of Mackenzie’s 18 recommendations, and the ministry is working on assisted living changes. Some recommendations, such as providing private rooms with ensuite bath for residential care beds, have “wide-reaching implications for health authorities” and require more study, Lake said.

Subsidized assisted living is based on 70 per cent of the resident’s net income, with a minimum of $325 left to the resident. Mackenzie recommends that minimum should increase to $500 to allow more low-income seniors to use assisted living rather than going directly to residential care, where more costs are covered by the province.

A survey of B.C. seniors finds 20 per cent are renters, with one in five of those receiving a rental subsidy. Average rents range from a high of $1,038 in Vancouver to $547 in Quesnel, and the report finds that for remote and rural communities, the biggest challenge is not cost but the availability of suitable housing.