Seniors told, pay more or move

B.C. Housing clamping down on ‘over-housing’ in subsidized units

Rita Parsons plans on staying in two-bedroom suite even though she'll have to pay more next year.

Rita Parsons plans on staying in two-bedroom suite even though she'll have to pay more next year.

Life on a fixed income will be tougher a year from now for several Maple Ridge residents when B.C. Housing clamps down on subsidized suites that don’t have the proper number of occupants.

For 11 residents of Devonshire Court Housing Co-op, who live in two-bedroom apartments, rent will jump by $166 by next April 1, off their pension or disability income.

Either the pensioners pay or they move to one-bedroom apartments, if they can find any.

“I think they’re trying to make us all street people,” said Emily Little, who lives in a two-bedroom suite that she shared with her husband until he passed away.

Little is in one of the subsidized suites in the co-op and scrapes by on a small company pension, as well as CPP and Old Age Security. And when next April rolls around and the rent increases, she’ll figure out a way to pay for it.

“We can pay the $166, but is that going to last for any length of time?” When will be the next increase, she asked.

“Then I’ll do without a supper a week – or something like that.”

According to B.C. Housing, the rents have to go up so money can be available for other subsidized housing. Residents will still get a subsidy, but only that for a one-bedroom apartment, requiring residents to pay the difference.

Signy Eggertson, on disability income of $905 a month, is in the same predicament after her roommate moved out.

Only five of the 47 apartments in the building are one-bedroom.

“There’s nowhere to go out there. This is absolutely ridiculous. What are people supposed to do?”

Louise Parson’s 87-year-old mom Rita will also pay the extra $166 so she can stay in her two-bedroom apartment, where she’s lived for almost 20 years and for which she pays $453 a month. Her husband, a war vet, died in 2001, leaving Rita the sole occupant.

“I’m staying here. Nobody else wants me,” she said Wednesday.

“I like it here. I’ve been here since 1996, so I don’t want to move.”

Next year, when the rent increase takes effect, she’ll have to pay it herself from her pension income without assistance from her two daughters. If her kids pitch in, that’s counted as income, which will reduce the rental subsidy.

“I think we’re going to just leave her where she is because she’s too old to move,” said Louise. “I’m sure there are others in worse situations than her and don’t know where they’re going to go.”

But co-op finance manager Marian Rice says many may be forced to leave once they realize they can’t come up with the extra money. Those in the subsidized units get only minimum pensions, that’s why they’re in the units in the first place.

Until now, B.C. Housing has encouraged those who are over-housed to relocate, but hasn’t really enforced it.

“It’s difficult, especially for the seniors because they’ve been part of this community for more than 20 years,” Rice said.

“Now, they’re being told, ‘Sorry, you’ve got to go.’ It’s very hard.”

Relocating takes them away from their support groups and could affect their health.

“They’re comfortable there,” Rice added. “They’re thriving there. It takes them outside of their support group.”

For the most part, the seniors are long-term members of the community, who’ve raised their families and lost their husbands here. One resident told Rice she’d just have to eat less.

“It wouldn’t be such a big deal, but there’s no place to go.”

Many people are already on long waiting lists for subsidized one-bedroom apartments, she said.

The April 7 letter from B.C. Housing says the benefit to the community of subsidized housing “is being negatively affected by “over-housing,” because the maximum number of people aren’t benefiting from the subsidy.

It’s a situation “that will only increase in severity over time if not addressed now.”

Fiona Jackson, with the Co‐operative Housing Federation of B.C., said the new approach by B.C. Housing only affects rent supplement agreements under the index-linked mortgage program. A rough estimate is that 850 units are affected in 59 housing co-ops throughout B.C.

Jackson said of more concern is the end to long-term subsidies to co-op housing as federal housing agreements expire. In the next three years, a quarter of housing co-ops in B.C., or about 1,500 households, will lose those subsidies for low-income families.

If the members have to give up their subsidized units, they’ll be facing an expensive rental market.

A meeting takes place on the topic Monday, May 26, at the Ford Road Housing Co-op in Pitt Meadows.

According to B.C. Housing, the province spends $5.5 million yearly on subsidies to housing co-ops.