British Columbia

Vancouver seniors are becoming increasingly vulnerable to homelessness, report finds

A recently released report has found the number of seniors waiting for affordable housing in Vancouver has increased significantly, and the B.C. NDP is calling on the province to do something about it.

Study says number of seniors waiting for affordable housing has increased by 38 per cent over 5 years

There are a total of 3,516 senior applicants on the B.C. Housing Registry hoping to access affordable living options. (iStock)

Seniors are becoming increasingly vulnerable to homelessness in Vancouver, according to a joint report released by the University of Victoria and Union Gospel Mission

The report found that over the last five years, the number of seniors waiting for subsidized housing in Vancouver has increased by 38 per cent. Since 2002, more than 1,000 seniors have been added to the waiting list, making the total number of applicants 3,516.

The report concluded that seniors are one of many groups that are increasingly at risk of homelessness due to Vancouver's affordability woes.

The findings have caught the eyes of members of the B.C. NDP who believe seniors should be presented with more affordable living opportunities.

​"It's disheartening because these are people who have worked their entire lives," Selina Robinson, the NDP's spokesperson for seniors, told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac. "They perhaps never made a lot of money — but they did their share."

"With the housing prices going up the way they are ... we have a lot of people who are just stuck. They're just trapped in this never-ending cycle of poverty," she said. "There's this whole senior group that I don't think government is really paying attention to."

Income supplement unchanged for 25 years

Robinson says the issue is further compounded by the fact that the B.C. Senior's Supplement — a guaranteed income supplement for low-income residents age 65 and older — is only $49.30 per month and hasn't been raised since 1991.

"I think that's criminal that there hasn't been recognition that the cost of living in 25 years hasn't been matched by the B.C. Senior's Supplement," she said.

There are, however, affordable living supplements that low-income seniors can also tap into. B.C. Housing's Shelter Aid for Elderly Residents (SAFER) program subsidizes rent costs for 17,000 senior households across the province.

According to B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, the subsidy works out to an additional $254 per month for renters in Vancouver. It also hasn't risen to match the cost of living.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie recently submitted a report to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services calling for an increase in the rental subsidy for low-income renters. (CBC)

"The problem is the rent supplements have not risen with the tandem of the increases in rent," Mackenze said. "Over ten years, rent went up 34 per cent but [the] supplement cap only went up 9 per cent."

Mackenzie has lobbied for an increase in the subsidies, something that she thinks would be a quick way to begin alleviating the financial hardship endured by many seniors in the region.

"If we can focus on an immediate solution on raising that rent cap, especially in Metro Vancouver, that will help out many low-income seniors," she said.

But the supplement is only part of the solution. Mackenzie says increasing the number of affordable housing options will also be necessary to help curb the growing number of seniors who are vulnerable to Vancouver's rising costs of living.

"There's not one answer and one solution for the housing needs for seniors," she said. "Seniors are very different. They have different housing needs and they have different wants and desires."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Advocates want to increase affordable housing options for seniors