Protecting seniors — many of them disabled — who are at risk of losing their homes due to renovictions has become a pressing issue for the Together Against Poverty Society’s Tenant Legal Advocacy Project.
“If you have been on disability for the last 20 or 30 years, the stakes are really high if you lose your housing,” said Douglas King, executive director for TAPS. “We need major support, as there are not enough options for seniors looking for subsidized or supportive housing.”
Renovictions — where landlords evict tenants in order to renovate suites — can potentially affect all renters. But for seniors, it can be especially disruptive, as they may have to relocate to a spot that’s far from the community where they have put down roots.
Apart from removing them from their circle of friends, relocations also require more travel for things such as medical appointments. For those with mobility challenges, the changes can lead to social isolation.
Helping seniors understand their rights and navigate the programs available to them — in particular issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancy Branch — is what the Tenant Legal Advocacy Project is all about, King said.
“More and more, it is getting harder and harder to understand and navigate ‘the system’,” said King. “Not everybody is the same, but if you don’t fit in the mould, you are going to have a hard time.”
TAPS also provides free legal advocacy, advice and assistance with income assistance and disability benefits. For the past month or so, the non-profit has been helping low-income earners fill out their tax returns.
The society has a client base of around 7,000, with the Tenant Legal Advocacy Project helping between 1,000 to 2,000 individuals understand their rights as tenants and programs available for them. The society has 14 paid staff serving Vancouver Island, including two based out of Nanaimo.
King said the society is grateful for its financial support from the Victoria Foundation’s Community Grants Program.
“The Victoria Foundation has helped us in lots of ways. Their funding helps us build future resources and they are one of the few who help us connect with other local funders,” said King, who has been executive director since 2018.
He has spent his time at the helm doing what he can to ensure people have access to safe and secure housing.
“In the last few years we have seen the cost of living going up, with more and more people looking to the government for support,” said King, previously a lawyer for the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “That has set up a significant strain on the system.”
Lack of housing options has meant people seeking government assistance don’t get to choose where they want to live, he said.
“Decisions are made on your behalf. You have a choice to take what is offered or perhaps not get another offer,” said King. “The Tenant Legal Advocacy Project is about giving people back their individual voices.”
Together Against Poverty Society is a registered charity and incorporated as a society under the B.C. Societies Act. For more information, go to tapsbc.ca.
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