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Comment: Affordable housing for our seniors: if not now, when?

A commentary by the president of the South Vancouver Island Housing Society: We learned that affordable housing cannot be built or operated, particularly for veterans and seniors, without the greater community’s support.
A letter-writer notes that Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.'s seniors advocate, made it clear in a recent report that many seniors are living below the poverty line. DON CRAIG, GOVERNMENT OF B.C.

Increasing expenses across the board are affecting our older citizens in many ways. It would be great if everyone could stay in their homes for their entire lives, but it just isn’t feasible for all seniors.

The lack of an affordable alternative for seniors in need of daily living support will eventually have them end up prematurely in resource-intensive long-term care.

As Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie recently said: “There is growing concern that the costs of aging at home are escalating and that seniors are struggling.” As a result, affordable housing is desperately needed.

Our society has first-hand experience in helping. We operate one affordable residence for seniors and veterans that offers both independent and assisted living. It has been running successfully for 50 years, but recently we have seen disturbing increases in our waitlist. We are willing to do more, but need support.

Over the past four years our development team has attempted to build another facility, but these efforts have resulted in failure, twice.

We learned that affordable housing cannot be built or operated, particularly for veterans and seniors, without the greater community’s support in many different ways.

By greater community, I mean the federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as local businesses, service clubs and individuals.

By support, I mean political, financial and bureaucratic assistance to find locations, get approvals to proceed and raise the funds to complete a housing project. To date, because of the barriers we encountered, we have been forced to engage a specialist development consultant — and still we failed.

Within the Capital Regional District, major hurdles exist to finding suitable and affordable land that can be zoned for this type of building.

Official Community Plans often mention affordable housing as a requirement, but when the time comes for action, barriers are quietly erected.

Is it a result of “NIMBY-ism”? I’m not sure, but it has occurred to many on our board that this is one of the factors paralyzing municipal governments.

Yet, Legion Manor in Central Saanich has been a great neighbour. The people who live there are very involved in community, even undertaking fundraising for a variety of causes.

Recently one of our board members visited Galiano Island, which has a severe housing-affordability situation. In response, many residents began posting signs in their yards supporting a movement to create affordable housing.

The signs read “YIMBY,” which stands for “Yes, in my backyard.” We need more residents of Vancouver Island to speak up for those in our senior population who need our help.

The last thing any of us want to see is older citizens who become homeless and are forced to live on our streets, because communities can’t get their act together for those who have contributed so much to our families, communities and our country.