More than 50 of Castlegar’s senior citizens crowded city council chambers on May 15 to tell their elected officials that they want to see more senior’s housing in the city.
Their spokesperson was Leni Normington, a well-known Castlegar resident.
Normington gave a thoroughly-prepared presentation pointing out the shortfalls in Castlegar’s housing stock.
She started out by quoting Castlegar’s tagline “happily ever after,” but went on to talk about how living happily ever after is becoming increasingly harder for local seniors.
Adults over the age of 65 account for 25 per cent of Castlegar’s 8338 residents, according to the 2021 census. That figure is expected to climb by 50-60 each year and does not include seniors in the surrounding areas of Ootischenia, Robson and Thrums or elsewhere in the regional district. There are more than 1200 seniors in Areas I and J of the RDCK.
That means there are more than 3200 Castlegar area residents needing senior-friendly housing.
Normington said seniors are looking for smaller houses for downsizing, townhouses, condos and seniors residence buildings.
In Castlegar there are only a handful of senior-specific housing options and many of those have wait lists.
Rota Villa has 40 units of subsidized housing for low income, 55+ residents. The building is 55 years old.
Castlewood Village has 110 units with a range of independent and assisted living options. It costs about $4000 per month and is over 20 years old.
Steller Place has townhouses for 55+ residents. These units are for purchase, not rent.
Maranatha Court offers 34 subsidized units that are open to seniors, but not exclusively. Families of varying ages and sizes live in the apartment buildings.
There are no seniors housing developments currently on the books for Castlegar or the surrounding areas.
Normington said that while she realizes the city is limited in what it can do on the housing front, she emphasized the city has a major responsibility to control and encourage suitable developments and land uses.
She also said that it is disappointing to see that in all of the action the city has undertaken in recent years regarding housing, there is no mention of senior-specific housing.
“Seniors are the largest demographic which will require suitable housing within the next two-to-ten years. From my point of view, the policies and processes that the city is relying on are too little and too slow,” added Normington.
Normington, backed by the other seniors at the meeting, suggested some ideas to increase local seniors housing stock including partnering with a non-profit to build, replacing Rota Villa or converting it to two stories, creating more seniors subsidized housing and encouraging more townhouses and condos.
Some of those options are out of the scope of a local municipality, but Normington encouraged council to do what they could including providing land, improving policies to speed up development and partnering with other stakeholders and non-profits.
Councillor Shirley Falstead said she can relate to the senior’s housing dilemma.
Falstead said she had previously rented a condo for five years, but when it was sold two years ago, she found herself with nowhere to go.
“I am lucky because I could move in with my sister and her husband and I have not been able to find accommodation other than that. I would be one of those homeless seniors if it wasn’t for that.”
Mayor Maria McFaddin said, “The unfortunate part, and you will see this in most municipalities, is that cities aren’t in the business of building housing because we are not funded in a way to be in the business. That is why we have other levels of government.
“Unfortunately what has happened is that over the last decade, other levels of government have downloaded onto municipal governments, but not necessarily the funding in order to hit those targets.”
McFaddin said the city is trying to incentivize housing construction through tax incentives and reduced development charges. They are also actively advertising that the city has land available for housing developments.
“We see the need, but the solution is not as evident,” said McFaddin.
She said she thinks the city has done a good job with its recent housing policies, but acknowledged that they have not included any senior-specific policies.
McFaddin said the city is continually talking to BC Housing and emphasizing the need for more housing in Castlegar.
Normington concluded with, “Regardless of the policies and processes that you have to follow as a municipal government and council, your job is to be creative and problem solve and move this issue forward so that seniors are reassured that something is being done.
“We are asking for more. We want seniors addressed in your future housing policies.”