The Sunshine Coast was the first stop for Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie to showcase her hopeful new report, “Seniors’ Housing in B.C.—Affordable, Appropriate, Available.”
Mackenzie talked to about 200 people May 23 at the Sechelt Seniors Activity Centre at a gathering sponsored by the Community Resource Centre and its Seniors Planning Table.
The report makes several recommendations to broaden availability and improve conditions for seniors who need assisted-living or residential care. But the report’s most far-reaching and innovative recommendation could affect the 80 per cent of B.C. seniors who are living in homes they own, and three-quarters of whom are mortgage-free.
The “overwhelming majority” of that group—including those on the Sunshine Coast—will never have to transition to assisted living or residential care, Mackenzie said. But, while they are house-rich, their annual income tends to be low: half of B.C seniors live on $24,000 gross income or less, and many struggle to pay their bills.
Mackenzie’s answer is what she calls a Homeowner Expense Deferral Account, a kind of inexpensive reverse-mortgage program.
The program would make money available from the provincial government—at a suggested 1.5 percent simple interest rate—for low-income people 65 and over. The account would be settled with the government when the home is sold.
Mackenzie’s report estimates that in areas like the Coast, participants in a deferral account program would use up less than one quarter of their home equity after 10 years, and still have just over half their equity intact after 20 years.
“There is a role for government to play in supporting seniors to access this equity that is locked up in their house,” Mackenzie told the gathering.
Bank reverse mortgages are not the answer, she said because, “you’re going to be shocked how much of your equity is going to be used to pay the compounded interest charges.”
Mackenzie believes it makes financial sense for the province to adopt the expense deferral idea.
“If I have to sell my house and I go into residential care or assisted living, the government is going to be subsidizing me,” she said, which is much more expensive than simply providing a low-income homeowner a cheap and secure loan.
Sechelt’s Sue Jackel, who sits on the Seniors Advocate’s Advisory Council, said she was delighted with the big turnout at the May 23 event, and noted that a number of developers’ representatives also attended.
Jackel said their presence might be a good sign for the future of residential care or assisted living facilities on the Coast.
“I’m hoping that one of them comes up with the winning numbers to convince the developers that we’re a good place to build,” she said.
Mackenzie’s full housing report can be downloaded in PDF form from her website at http://www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca. Rik Jespersen