Echo boom, seniors compete for housing

“It’s a frightening time for tenants. Rents are on the rise and vacancy rates in some areas are at an all-time low. Will tenants be able to afford a rent increase and stay in their apartments? The situation is particularly difficult for seniors on a restricted income,” writes Lillian Morgenthau in a recent issue of CARPNews FiftyPlus.

Rents for modest housing are beginning to be driven upwards by a whole new group of actors in the rental market scene. These newcomers to the labour force-people under the age of 25-often pay a greater percentage of their scant wages on housing than does any other age group.

Rising rents
David K. Foot, author (with David Stoffman) of Boom, Bust and Echo 2000: Profiting form the demographic shift in the new millennium (Macfarlane Walter & Ross), explains that the echo generation, children of the baby boomers, is about to leave home and start looking for rental accommodation.

He points out that in the ’70s and ’80s, when the boomers were in the rental market, older people found themselves unable to afford rising rents.

“It’s the same scenario, and now it’s got to do with the chiren of the boomers. The first echo kid, born in 1980, is now 21. They’re about to pour into a rental housing market, increasing demand in a market that’s had no supply added to it in a decade. And we’re only seeing what’s about to happen – there are lots of 10- and 11-year-olds out there that 10 years from now will need rental housing. It’s a long-term trend,” says Foot, “and you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Echo impact
The greatest impact of the echo generation will be felt in Ontario and western Canada, with the possible exception of Montreal and Halifax. Both are big urban centres that attract young people, he notes.

Val McDonald is executive director of Vancouver’s Seniors’ Housing Information Program (SHIP). “We have about 200 seniors calling here a month,” she says. “We’re not hearing that rent increases are necessarily what’s concerning them. It’s just high rents in general.

“About 45 per cent of B.C. seniors are earning the full Old Age Security and full or partial Guaranteed Income Supplement, so their incomes are around $1,000 a month. If rents here are $650 for a one-bedroom, plus seniors are paying for food, medications and over-the-counter drugs, you can see that people’s dollars just don’t stretch. When they call us, they’re looking for affordable housing.

Non-profit sector
Macdonald points out the provincial government continues to play a role in supplying affordable rental stock.

 “There’s the non-profit sector (housing co-operatives and not-for-profit societies) that provides seniors’ subsidized housing and there’s directly-managed housing through B.C. Housing’s management commission. In both types of housing you’d pay 30 per cent of your income toward rent, so it’s much more manageable. But there are high waiting lists to get in.

“B.C. Housing has a rent supplement program called SAFER – Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters – that’s similar, except that the cheque comes to the individual,” adds McDonald. “You don’t live in a subsidized housing setting; you live in a market rental apartment. Again it tries to keep it so that you’re not paying more than 30 per cent for your rent.”

Rent or food
In her editorial, Morgenthau states: “Rents in apartments rise every year and increasingly force tenants to choose between food and rent. Landlords, faced with rising taxes and higher utility costs must find ways to realize a return on their investments. Some choose to raise rent as much as possible while ignoring or delaying repairs. Eventually, once well-maintained apartments slowly become run down.”

“In some regions, rents can be raised without restriction once an apartment is vacated. Unfortunately, some landlords view this as an opportunity to force old tenants to move out. Older renters, many of them women, are especially vulnerable. They find that simple repairs to their apartments are ignored in the hopes they will vacate. But since there are fewer and fewer affordable rental units, where can they go?”

“How sad to live to a good old age and be faced with such a devastating dilemma. It’s time to force governments and the rental industry to address the need for building affordable housing. If we all work together, we can accomplish a great deal.”

Morgenthau says CARP has initiated a series of round table meetings with government, developers, builders and planners to begin a practical push for affordable national housing incentives.
With files from CARPNews FiftyPlus Senior Editor, Jayne MacAulay.