Dan Fumano: A ‘grey tsunami’ and the precariousness of aging for Vancouver renters

The last few weeks have been some of the most stressful times of Christine Weltscheff’s retirement.

Weltscheff, 71, is among the seniors living in a Kitsilano apartment building where residents recently reported feeling pressured to leave their homes after new landlords took over in September.

Within days of the building’s longtime owners selling to a company connected to local property management firm VS Rentals, the new landlords delivered written buyout offers to every tenant, urging them to accept a cash payout, end their tenancies, and move out of their homes to allow for renovations. There was no mention of the possibility of eviction. But the worry lingered, Weltscheff said, that an eviction notice would come at some point. She knew tenants at other Vancouver buildings owned by the same landlords had recently battled eviction attempts.

Weltscheff never considered the buyout a viable option; even with an extra $5,000 in her pocket, she said, if she had to find a new home, nothing in the city would be close to affordable, as rents have soared during the 11 years she’s lived in her current home.

“As it is, I’m spending more than 50 per cent of my pension on rent,” Weltscheff said this week. “I have health issues. I cannot afford to be homeless, I cannot afford the stress all this has caused me … Where am I supposed to go?”

After several uneasy weeks, Weltscheff and her neighbours received positive news recently, as the landlords told The Vancouver Sun that they would allow tenants to remain in their homes. Then on Tuesday, Vancouver council unanimously supported a motion intended to protect tenants from “renovictions and aggressive buyouts,” a move one tenants’ advocate acclaimed as “an incredible win for literally half the population,” referring to the portion of Vancouverites who rent.

But challenges like those faced by Weltscheff are disturbingly common for older Vancouver tenants — and, data shows, as tenants continue to age, the situation only gets worse.

Vancouver renters over age 65 are significantly more likely than younger renters to face what Statistics Canada calls “core housing need,” according to a new analysis of census data by Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. These challenges on “housing suitability, adequacy or affordability” could mean cramming multiple tenants into a bachelor suite, facing displacement by mould or renoviction, or spending most of one’s income — or pension — on housing costs. The effects of displacement — such as a renoviction — can be especially devastating for this vulnerable population.

While some might think of renters as younger people who haven’t yet bought a home, census data shows rentals make up a significant portion — roughly a third — of Vancouver seniors.

Yan’s analysis of StatsCan census data on housing tenure and primary household maintainers shows that, in every age category over 25, renters are more likely to face core housing needs than homeowners. But the gap widens dramatically with age: as Vancouver renters get older, they’re significantly more likely to experience substandard housing, census figures show, while older homeowners are more stable and secure than younger homeowners. While renters between the ages of 35 and 44 are 20 per cent more likely to face substandard housing than homeowners of the same age, renters between 65 and 74 are 124 per cent more likely to be in core housing need than homeowners of the same age. For all Vancouver renters over the age of 65, almost 60 per cent of them face core housing needs.

“I think these housing numbers, particularly for seniors who rent, show how aging in Vancouver is increasingly precarious,” Yan said. “Aging brings new levels of precariousness for Vancouver renters.”

With Vancouver’s housing prices being what they are, it seems likely that a growing portion of the city’s population will be lifelong renters. Combining that trend with the region’s aging population, we might expect the number of senior renters to grow, too.

Yan has previously warned of what he’s called a “grey tsunami” on the horizon for Vancouver and B.C. In a Resonance Consultancy report last year entitled The Future of B.C. Housing, Yan wrote of “a province headed into uncharted demographic territory, with an aging tsunami barrelling toward infrastructure and housing ill-prepared for it.”

The portion of Metro Vancouver’s population who are seniors is set to go from 15 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent in 2041, the report noted.

“We will see a demographic mix that is unprecedented to any previous generations of British Columbians,” Yan said in the report. “On a provincial level, 2016 presents an inflection year where the working population supports more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 19 — a pattern that has never occurred.”

There are many reasons it’s crucial to consider the housing needs of Vancouver’s seniors, says Yan, and only one of them is the fact that, as he says: “I have an aspiration to become one myself … One day.”

dfumano@postmedia.com

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