Residential Care/Nursing Homes/Seniors Housing

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Andrew Longhurst: B.C. needs to significantly boost supply of public assisted living for seniors

Too many seniors in our province struggle to find publicly subsidized assisted living where they can be supported as they age. Amidst an affordable housing crisis felt across generations, the need to significantly boost the supply of subsidized assisted living is more urgent than ever before.

Assisted living is a type of supportive housing for people with moderate levels of disability who need daily personal assistance to live independently (meals, help with bathing, or taking medications, etc.). Publicly subsidized assisted living is part of B.C.’s larger home and community care system. There is also a large private-pay assisted living sector, where seniors pay entirely out-of-pocket and fees are completely unregulated. For-profit corporations provide the vast majority of private-pay units, while non-profits provide the majority of publicly subsidized units

Access to publicly subsidized assisted living units in B.C. dropped significantly — by 17 per cent — between 2008 and 2017. (Access is measured as the number of units for every 1,000 seniors age 75 and older).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the private-pay assisted living market has benefited as a result, as seniors and their families look for other options when subsidized care is unavailable. Between 2010 and 2017, 1,130 private-pay units were added throughout the province, while a mere 105 publicly subsidized units were added.

Private-pay care may be an option for some, but it is beyond the means of most low- and moderate-income seniors. Senior couples at the median (middle) income of $61,900 can scarcely afford a one-bedroom assisted living unit, which would eat up 58 per cent of their income. For seniors living alone, even a bachelor suite would require over 80 per cent of their income.

B.C. currently relies on private-sector financing of assisted living, which is more expensive than the provincial government financing new construction. This approach is a relic of the early 2000s when government refused to take on debt in order to build critical social infrastructure.

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