The rare termination of a contract by Terraces on 7th, a Vancouver retirement home, which it had with Vancouver Coastal Health to provide a portion of its suites for less than market rates, is a worrying sign for seniors who can’t afford market rents, said Isobel Mackenzie.
“We haven’t had this happen before,” she said. “In assisted living homes, it’s always been the health authority that has ended the contract and has said we don’t need the units any more.
“This is raising a red flag and it’s not just happening with assisted living contracts, but private operators of residential care homes can terminate contracts, too,” she said.
Mackenzie said when VCH began to enter into contracts several years ago with owners to provide subsidized units, retirement homes were happy to offer suites that they had trouble filling in return for guaranteed income.
“Everybody was lining up for the government subsidies,” she said.
But seniors selling their own homes that have risen in value considerably are in a better position these days to pay top dollar for rents or to buy units in retirement complexes and there may be a shift away from the subsidization model, she said.
The evictions at the Terraces on 7th by September is worrying Barbara Coutts, who is 90 years old, blind and uses a walker to get around.
“I had a letter that said ‘Dear Barbara’ and it was put under my door,” she said.
The letter told her and the other 20 residents that the owners, Retirement Concepts, had given its six months notice to Coastal Health to terminate its contract, calling it a “business decision.”
“She’ll have to leave her home, her community, her friends … so the owners can squeeze a little more profit out of it,” said her daughter, Caroline Coutts.
“It’s the beginning of something very nasty,” predicted Martine Donahue, 90, who lives at the Terraces in a subsidized suite for which she pays 70 per cent of her monthly income, or about $1,900 (and which includes food).
The former Air Canada reservations clerk retired 30 years ago, but said “my pension isn’t indexed to inflation so it doesn’t keep up with these rents.”
“To get rid of us by attrition is the most acceptable and the only acceptable option, but they (the owners) gave us lots of financial reasons why they couldn’t do that,” she said.
A message left with the Terraces on 7th wasn’t returned.
Barbara’s daughter, Caroline Coutts, and other residents said residents should be grandfathered when a home terminates a contract in consideration of the residents’ age and the effect a move would have on the elderly.
“They are playing with the health of these elderly people,” said Coutts, who noted there are two residents at the Terraces who are over 100. “This should be made illegal.”
“My feeling is they don’t realize the impact it (a move) has on you,” said Dorothy Pelletier, 86, who shares a suite with her 88-year-old husband. “You came here thinking it was going to be your last home until you die. We would like to be able to stay here.”
“It’s so stressful, it’s very disruptive to move apartments,” said Lena Morrisette, whose mother, 86, and father, 91, received an eviction notice two days before they were to move from a private-pay suite in the building to a subsidized suite. All their belongings are in boxes and they are looking for a new retirement home.
Gavin Wilson of Vancouver Coastal Health said it would be “our preference” for retirement homes to use attrition when ending a contract for subsidized housing but there is no requirement for homes to do so.
He said VCH will find other units among the 800-plus assisted-living subsidized vacancies for all the evicted seniors.
Mackenzie said her office is looking into “the issue of what happens to seniors who are given notice” when they live in subsidized care that’s registered with the government and what rights they have.
“I have a whole bunch of questions I don’t have answers to yet,” she said, adding the solution may lie in legislation or policy changes.
A health ministry spokeswoman wasn’t able to provide comment late on Friday.
Marlene Williams, executive director of the B.C. Seniors Living Association, which represents retirement home owners, said in an email about the Terraces evictions that “a business decision of this type may be made for a number of reasons, including government funding levels not keeping pace with the cost of service provision.”
She also said proposed changes to B.C. law for assisted living homes, including the provision of more services before being moved to residential care, and increased regulatory oversight are “significant” and “may be undesirable or difficult (for operators) to deliver.”