Water-wings for seniors in the rental pool

Water-wings for seniors in the rental pool

By Rita Button

Finding an affordable place to rent in James Bay is hard, especially if you’re a single person over 70 on a fixed income. Although laws govern the rates at which rents can increase, loopholes exist, and the savings account which, at one time looked healthy and generous, can seem as withered and sere as the sails on the Ancient Mariner’s ship.

In 2017, in British Columbia, the annual legal rent increase is 3.7%. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/during-a-tenancy/rent-increases. That translates to an extra $37.00 on a rent of $1000.00. If Old Age Security increases are assigned at 1%, the discrepancy between raises in pension income and increases in basic living needs is obvious. MSP, cable, and other utilities increase annually as well; it doesn’t take long for a person living on a fixed income to use money originally reserved for emergencies on daily needs such as heat, rent, and water.

As well, some seniors who rent are asked by their landlords to move out so that renovations can be completed on their unit. If the unit is empty for a minimum of two months, the landlord is able to increase the rent to whatever the market will bear. The 3.7% legal increase no longer applies. Some seniors have been challenged to overcome rent increases of $500.00 a month after renovations have been completed.

Tanya became aware of these challenges when she moved to Victoria about four years ago. Tired of the extreme weather on the prairies, she had decided to exchange it for more salubrious atmospheric conditions and easy living on the island. She even found a place to rent. She nervously signed the lease: $1100.00 a month. Her pension is $1300.00 a month. She realized that she’d have to dip into her savings to survive, and that she’d have to find a way to overcome the high rent. Easy living was not as simple as she had thought!

Researching housing needs and costs in Victoria, Tanya came upon the S.A.F.E.R. website https:www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/rental-assistance-financial-aid-for-home-modifications/shelter-aid-for-elderly-renters is the url. She discovered she should be spending $700.00 on rent instead of the $1100.00 she was currently spending

Applying not only to the Housing Registry, https://www.bchousing.org/partner-services/program-provider-information/housing-registry-for-housing-providers, but also to the non-profits and Housing Co-ops, Tanya waited three and a half years to get to the top of the list, a spot that would allow her to decide which place would be best for her. She took the list from the Affordable Housing website, a subsection of The Housing Registry, and rode the bus to see which places suited her best. Each building she viewed, she asked herself: “Would I be happy living here?”

That’s how she narrowed down the possibilities while ensuring that she would choose well. 

At the beginning of the fourth year, she phoned the non-profits once a month to check on availability. This allowed those in charge to understand that Tanya is a real person who would benefit from their housing offers.

She regrets that none of these are in James Bay since she needs a place for a single senior. Such places are rare on the affordable housing list, so she resigned herself to enjoying James Bay while she lived there, but prepared herself for a time when she would be invited to move into a place where the rent was truly affordable and where she could live a happier life since the worry of not being able to afford her life would have disappeared. The savings account would return to its original function of being a safety net instead of providing her daily bread. 

Today, Tanya is happy. She lives in a 600 square foot apartment at Marrion Village, a part of Baptist Housing, for which she pays one third of her monthly income. No longer does she feel “unsettled’ because her rent is taking a huge bite from her little income. Now she has a feeling of contentment, for she knows she is “aging in place,” a slogan Tanya remembers from some of the brochures of other seniors’ places, and one she thinks is particularly appropriate for her situation. Her belief in the maxim “A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.” (anonymous), is dramatized hereby her resilience.

Now she enjoys her life even more than she did when she was worrying about the money. Flowers growing in pots near the coffee shop, stones on the beach at Dallas Road, spring-time blossoms, the sun on her face as she sits on a bench appreciating what nature has to offer are parts of her life she truly enjoys.

“I do not feel underprivileged,” she says.  “I have a great life.”

She appreciates, also, that she gets to watch the Victoria Ballet whenever they put on a new show. A program called “Tea for Tutu” invites seniors to watch their presentations at no cost to the senior. It’s their Outreach program; of course, tea is served at the end of the show.

Another program that Tanya totally enjoys is the Compass bus pass which has an annual cost of $45.00 and which Tanya gladly pays, for it gives her freedom.  She can go a lot of places with this bus pass.  There’s a website, http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/passenger-travel/buses-taxis-limos/bus-pass/seniors but you can also get information by writing BC Bus Pass Program. P.O. Box 9985 STATION PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT, Victoria, B.C. V8W 9R6. As well, at the back of every bus schedule book is information on how to get bus passes, including the compass pass.

Tanya is convinced that she gets out of life what she puts into it. Volunteering is a big part of her life; it’s where she makes friends and is social. She believes that communicating with others, getting enough exercise, and eating nutritious food will help her reach her goal of living to be 100. 

I hope she makes it. And I hope I will be invited to her birthday party!

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