Maria de los Angeles Floves, 71, lives in a rented North Vancouver apartment with her husband and pay a reasonable rent but are worried for the future when they see the same apartment going for double what they pay. PNG
Seventy-one-year-old Maria de los Angeles Flores and her husband live in an immaculate one-bedroom apartment ideally located in North Vancouver close to shops and a community centre.
The couple, who immigrated from Mexico, pay $800 a month in rent and haven’t had a rent increase in the six years they have lived there. But like many seniors, on low fixed incomes living in an affordable rental, they worry when they see similar units coming on the market in their neighbourhood for nearly double the price they pay.
“She’s very grateful and always available to give a hand to the landlord. She helps them take care of their children twice a week. She never complains because she knows the reality of what is out there and wants to avoid any trouble,” said Monica Murguia, of the 411 Seniors Centre Society, who acted as a translator for an interview with Postmedia News.
During the interview de los Angeles Flores learned she would be entitled to a provincial rental subsidy called SAFER (Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters) but she’s reluctant to apply saying she doesn’t want to be a burden to society. After some coaxing, she agreed to let the 411 Seniors Centre help her with the application.
Vancouver’s West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said many elderly renters live in fear their rent will rise beyond their ability to pay. The average monthly payment for Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security is less than $1,200 a month, while rent for a one-bedroom apartment new to the market in the West End is $2,000 to $2,300.
Seniors who have rented the same apartment for years in the West End, typically pay half of that amount. But they are increasingly targeted for eviction to clear the way for the landlord to increase the rent for a new tenant, said Chandra Herbert. Some landlords falsely claim the suite will be used by a family member or get seniors to “self-evict” by tricking them into signing one year leases then raising the rent dramatically after the year ends, he said.
Chandra Herbert worked with one senior who was evicted after the landlord claimed the apartment would be used by a family member. Instead, it was rented to a new tenant for $1,800 — an increase of $800 a month. The senior couldn’t afford the $50 to lodge a complaint with the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch and ended up moving to the Fraser Valley to find a comparable sized suite for $1,000.
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords can be fined if they illegally evict a tenant, but the $5,000 fine isn’t much of a deterrent since the new higher rent quickly covers the cost, Chandra Herbert said. In order to be a true deterrent, the fine would have to be raised, he said.
B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said she’s heard some seniors muse about moving into subsidized residential care early, if they can qualify, in order to avoid high market rents.
Mackenzie believes one of the answers is providing additional financial aid to renters through the SAFER grant. She said the current SAFER rental cap is not realistic in high housing markets like Vancouver and Victoria, which has seen the average rental price increase 34 per cent over the past 10 years. The SAFER rental cap has risen just 9 per cent in the same time period, which means more seniors are left with a deficit each month.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s $50 or $500 deficit. It they are short that amount every month how can they sustain it,” said Mackenzie. “Ideally it (the rental cap) would rise to the average rent for that area,” she said.
Currently, 20, 241 low-income British Columbian seniors — over the age of 60 — receive the SAFER subsidy. More than half of them live in Vancouver which has the highest rents in the province.
Mackenzie also wants to see the number of subsidized housing units for seniors increased, which would ensure they would not have to pay more than 30 per cent of their income towards the cost of rent. Currently there are 2,325 seniors, aged 65 and older, approved for subsidized housing in the province but are still waiting for an available unit. The average wait is 2.2 years provincially, but 2.5 years in the area covered by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.
How senior renters on low fixed incomes end up living with a deficit each month
When calculating the SAFER subsidy for low-income seniors in high rental markets like Vancouver and Victoria, the maximum rent the government determines its subsidy on is capped — leaving a majority of seniors struggling to make ends meet.
Vancouver rent is capped at $765 monthly.
So a Vancouver senior on a fixed income of $1,600 who is paying $960 for a one-bedroom apartment would be eligible for a SAFER subsidy of $237.
After monthly expenses of $1,000, he or she would have a monthly deficit of $129 even with the SAFER subsidy.
Victoria rent is capped at $667.
A Victoria senior on a fixed income of $1,550 who is paying $867 for a one-bedroom apartment would be eligible for a $170 SAFER subsidy.
After monthly expenses of $1,000 he or she would have a monthly deficit of $136.
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