MLA Ralph Sultan: “Where Will All of the Seniors Live?”

The following post was found on the website for MLA Ralph Sultan, who formerly served as Minister of State for Seniors in the B.C. Government. We thought the subject matter would be of interest to our readers, and it is not considered to be an endorsement. 

There has been more than a sniff of snow in the air; and judging from the rhetoric there must also be an election coming.  How else explain such statements as “This is a government which has ignored housing!” and “What is the plan?”

Fair questions.   Let’s put aside the approximately $4.8 billion invested in affordable housing since this government came into office; let’s put aside that this government has carried most of the burden of ameliorating homelessness on the Downtown East Side; let’s put aside that this provincial government subsidizes approximately one housing unit in every 25 on the North Shore, targeting the most needy – and ask ourselves, despite all of this, in this super-inflated real estate market what does the future hold?

Ralph Sultan

I am not the Minister in charge of Housing; that’s Rich Coleman.  But it is my personal forecast that this government will strive to spend whatever it takes to maintain the existing proportion of seniors in government subsidized housing.  And it will endeavour to do that, in my personal view, despite the inexorably growing numbers of seniors among us – including, I should declare, myself.   Today seniors probably make-up at least one-third of those who vote in my riding.

And what proportion of seniors are housed totally or partially by the provincial government today?  Well, roughly 4%.   And let’s add for your consideration that about another 4% are housed in higher-end private-pay institutions.  So roughly 8% of seniors are in some form of organized institutional arrangements – half of them, approximately, being assisted by the provincial government, and the other half paying entirely from their family bank account.

As estimated by Stats Canada, in 2016, 16.5% of Canadians were 65 or older.  The population growth for this 65+ cohort has been increasing four times faster than the population at large. In British Columbia the corresponding proportion is significantly higher, at 17.9%, and we are growing older too.

A simple minded extrapolation of how rapidly the population of seniors in BC has been growing suggests that in ten years there will probably be well over one million of us.  So we’d better be prepared for a lot more seniors housing.

If my 4% rule-of-thumb were to be maintained, the government would have to build or subsidize roughly 1,000 new seniors units a year in BC to stay even.  That’s a lot of seniors housing.  The Premier has recently announced 1,354 new units for seniors, across BC.

Let us be thankful that through budgetary prudence, that through encouraging a robust economy, through managing the affordable housing strategy with long-term goals in mind, BC has done a credible job of providing housing for the seniors most in need.

Nevertheless, no matter what government does there will always be a demand for more. Our Municipal Councils talk about affordable housing a great deal, until it comes time to build some.  Neighbours show up to object.

The reality is that we are aging.  My arithmetic suggests only about 4% + 4% = 8% are going to live either in private pay institutions or someplace paid in whole or in part by the government.  The rest of us folks must develop another plan.

If that plan is to demand the 4% of seniors should become 5% or even 6%, then seniors must acknowledge there are a lot of other needy folks standing in line too:  single moms, the disabled, persons with special needs, women and children fleeing violence; the homeless for whom the alternative is to bed down under a railroad bridge; those recovering from addictions.  It may surprise you to learn that when we add in other that need and deserve support, who are not necessarily seniors, it turns out that the province today is providing one way or another, in whole or in part, 3,650 individuals and families on the North Shore with a safe place to stay.  Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of North Shore housing.

In West Vancouver, the Kiwanis Seniors Housing Society runs a top quality facility that provides over 300 units in four buildings for low-income seniors.  Resident amenities include a library, dining room, activity room and an on-site beauty salon.  33 of the units are for seniors that need assisted living which are managed by Vancouver Coastal Health.  The rent and cost of care is shared between the resident and the provincial government based on income.  Funding for the latest building was provided by CMHC ($100,000), District of West Vancouver waived fees and charges of approximately $870,000, BC provincial government provided approximately $16.3 million in long-term financing and the Kiwanis Housing Society of West Vancouver provided $8.6 million in equity and the land.  Kiwanis Garden Village is a fine example of the service community and governments working together to provide much needed housing for seniors.

We will need more such partnerships in the future.

Byline: Ralph Sultan