James Bay New Horizons for Seniors Society, a neighbourhood community hub for seniors, approached CSPC prompted by increasing concerns they were hearing from seniors who were:
- struggling to pay high rents,
- had lost or were at risk of losing their housing due to renovation evictions, and
- struggling to find affordable housing.
The neighbourhood of James Bay in the City of Victoria has the highest population of seniors, many of them in rental housing. It also has some of the city’s highest average rents. To study this issue further, CSPC partnered with the New Horizons for Seniors Society and engaged with local seniors. Over 122 senior (55+) tenants in James Bay participated in a survey, and two focus groups were held with senior renters and senior service providers.
The final report from this study, Under Pressure: The Rental Housing Experience of Seniors Living in James Bay, profiles community housing and income data and brings forward seniors’ voices about their lived experiences in the tight rental market of James Bay.
The findings from this project painted a detailed picture of the rental housing market in James Bay and factors influencing the housing experience of seniors.
The connection and attachment seniors feel towards James Bay is very apparent and is primarily due to the senior-friendly neighbourhood amenities, which add to seniors’ social connectedness. According to literature, this sense of connection is essential to positive health and well-being outcomes for seniors.
The study reveals that low to moderate-income seniors in the rental housing market are facing a significant crisis of affordability, security of tenure, and rent stability, and senior renters voiced that they are struggling to stay in their current housing situations, yet feel that leaving is not a good option.
“[If I received notice to vacate my home], I would look for another place in James Bay, but I would be doing so in a confused panic state with severe anxiety. I do not have friends or family that I could stay with for a transition period” – Survey respondent
Not only is leaving the community undesirable and potentially harmful to older adults’ health and well-being, but seniors feel as if there is nowhere else for them to go. The 0.7% vacancy rate and ageing housing stock in the neighbourhood support the notion of these concerns. This lack of affordable and appropriate housing is also causing a palatable fear amongst seniors specific to the security of tenure, with renovictions and increased rents after renovations being their primary fears.
“I am concerned that the apartment rental we have found for March may not be long term. I have heard about [‘renovictions’]. This is a possibility as the building is older.” – Survey respondent
In 2016, 47% of tenants in James Bay were spending more than 30% of their income on shelter costs, placing them in core housing need. The average rent in James Bay increased by 20% between 2016 and 2020. Although there is a provincial rent cap limiting the maximum allowable rent increases to the rate of inflation, rent rates are still rising faster than fixed incomes and it does not address the escalation before the cap. Some seniors in the study report spending up to 60% of their income on housing. When asked about the impacts of a $25 monthly rent increase (the average that would be allowed under the maximum allowable rent cap), 65% of survey respondents said they would have to make cutbacks in their lives on things like social outings, groceries, medications, and transportation. Unfortunately, 39% have already made such cutbacks.
It is evident that the high rental costs in the neighbourhood are taxing the budgets of seniors, particularly because so many rely heavily on fixed incomes. While affordable housing is becoming increasingly recognized in policy across the city and country, there tends to be little focus on those living on fixed incomes, especially seniors. Provincial programs like Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) provide some support; however, these subsidies do not reflect the high market rents and available fixed incomes, nor do they address the significant affordability gap between the two.
According to BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), an ageing population, combined with population growth, will account for much of the increase in rental housing demand in the region. BCNPHA indicates that by 2036, there will be a significant increase in the population over the age of 65, which will pressure in the James Bay neighbourhood for seniors in the rental market.
The report makes recommendations aimed at meeting the needs of seniors, including the development of affordable housing for seniors in the James Bay area, a seniors’ navigator to provide in-person housing support and assistance, and extending a local food security program while housing affordability is addressed.