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Burnaby seniors experiencing severe housing crisis: new United Way report

Almost 1 in 5 senior-led renter households spend more than 50% of income on rent

United Way BC released a new report on Nov. 22 about housing precarity among seniors in BC. According to the report, loss of subsidized units, rising rents, evictions, renovictions and redevelopments are pushing more seniors to the brink of homelessness.

The report’s findings showed that 18% or 21,565 renter households led by seniors spend more than 50% of their monthly income on rent, which is considered at a high risk of homelessness. According to the report, 2,685 seniors in Burnaby are spending 30% or more of their income on rent every month, representing 45% of seniors. In addition, 1,145 Burnaby seniors, or approximately 19%, spend 50% or more of their income on rent per month.  

Senior sitting on a chair by the sea. Photo: Pexels

According to Kimberly Barwich, program director at Burnaby Neighbourhood House, one of United Way’s partners, one of the reasons for the crisis is that rent has increased by an average of 64% since 2010. At the same time, government and other benefits have not kept pace.

The maximum amount a senior can access in benefits, such as the Old Age Security (OAS), Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and senior supplements amounts to $1,841 per month, which is currently not enough to cover a one-bedroom apartment in Burnaby, let alone pay for living expenses.

Barwich said a senior receiving the maximum amount in benefits would be making $10,000 less per year than someone working full time at a job that pays minimum wage. 

“If you are making 10,000 less than minimum wage a year, it’s a real struggle,” she told the Beacon.

Increasingly, seniors are trying to access other rent assistance programs. Bruce Foster, program manager at Burnaby Rent Bank told the Beacon, “At Purpose Society we run a shelter here in New West and we’ve seen a significant increase in seniors coming to our shelter. People in their 70s and 80s don’t have housing.” 

Barwich added that Burnaby Neighbourhood House is seeing an increase in seniors who need food assistance.

“We have a very large seniors program. And we also support folks through food hubs…We’re seeing increased traffic at food hubs in general and a growing number of seniors who are accessing food hubs for a weekly hamper,” she said. “Amongst our seniors program, what we see is increased anxiety among our seniors. We get requests and conversations regularly about folks that are about to lose their housing. Finding an appropriate resource to refer someone to has become increasingly difficult.” She added that options are becoming more limited, and the BC Housing waitlist is now very long. 

According to the United Way report, “There is a growing number of seniors who are unsheltered or living in substandard or unsafe housing situations (e.g., staying with abusive family members; living in cars or storage lockers; camping in the woods; housing without heat or electricity). The housing affordability crisis has been reported to affect seniors residing in large urban communities and small rural and remote areas. Most shockingly, an increasing number of seniors, who have worked all their lives, are finding themselves on the verge of homelessness or experiencing homelessness for the first time in their 60s and 70s.” 

The impacts extend beyond affecting seniors’ living standards. “Housing precarity and homelessness significantly impact the physical and mental health of seniors. In addition, the high costs of housing often leave seniors in impossible situations, where they must choose between paying for housing and meeting other essential needs such as food or medications,” United Way’s report added. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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