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Housing is top issue for seniors, Advocate says

Housing is top issue for seniors, Advocate says

P 1 seniors advocate isobel pic

Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie spoke in Sechelt Jan. 20. Rik Jespersen photo

B.C.’s Seniors Advocate says she was wrong about the one thing she expected would be the top priority of seniors as she has toured the province.

“I thought I was going to hear, ‘we need more residential care beds!’ That isn’t what I heard,” Isobel Mackenzie told a standing-room-only meeting at the Sechelt Band Hall Jan. 20.

“Housing was the number-one issue,” Mackenzie said. “Closely followed by transportation, and income supports.”

Mackenzie, appointed last April as the province’s first-ever Seniors Advocate, said that many seniors are concerned about eventually running out of income, and the implications that would have for their housing.

“Another thing I heard,” she said, “Was, ‘I’m very afraid I’m going to run out of money. And as a consequence of running out of money, I’m going to run out of choices. And as a consequence of running out of choices, I’m going to find myself in residential care, and that’s not where I want to be.’”

Mackenzie said that although many seniors own their homes and are mortgage-free, that doesn’t pay the bills.

“Your day-to-day living isn’t determined by how much your house is worth, it’s by what your income is.”

Mackenzie said she might recommend to the government that it subsidize payment deferral programs similar to property tax deferral system. That could help senior homeowners pay for house repairs or other major expenses.

“You shouldn’t be forced out of your home into assisted living because you can’t afford some of the repairs and maintenance for your house,” she said.

Rather than going to the expense of moving cash-strapped seniors into assisted living, it could be more cost effective for the government “if they subsidized you to a lesser degree in your own home,” said Mackenzie.

About 20 per cent of B.C.’s seniors are renters, and the low increase in the amount of rental accommodation outside of the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island is a problem. That’s a fact the government is “going to have to come to grips with,” said Mackenzie.

“The private sector is not going to come in and build condominiums that can be rented out the way they’ve done in the Lower Mainland.”

The Advocate’s mandate is to make recommendations to the provincial government on behalf of seniors, but she noted that she cannot force the province to act.

But, Mackenzie said, “I am a very impatient person,” and she is committed to being heard.

Mackenzie expects to be making the first of several recommendation-packed reports to the government soon.

She also said the limits to her powers also extended to one other chronic issue she heard about repeatedly up and down the B.C. coast:

“I cannot fix the ferry system. That is not in the mandate.”  Rik Jespersen

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