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B.C. seniors facing housing crunch, risk homelessness

Langley’s Paul Zwingé is one of many seniors facing an enforced move soon
Paul Zwingé is one of many Langley seniors facing a move – and potentially higher rents – soon because of redevelopment. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

At 90 going on 91, Paul Zwingé is still living independently, painting, and driving himself to shopping and errands around downtown Langley.

He’s also facing some tough choices, as his home of the last five years is about to fall to the wrecking ball, and he’s not sure where he’ll find a new place to live.

“I’m looking at either the end of February, or the end of March,” Zwingé said. He’s waiting for a notice that he’ll have three months to vacate the home he shares with his son on Langley City’s Eastleigh Crescent.

Right now, Zwingé and his son split a rent of $1,550 a month for the two-storey, three bedroom apartment. The building is older, but well kept up, and gives them a bit of a back yard, a carport, and easy access to the downtown.

Wherever he finds himself next, he’ll likely have a smaller space, no yard, and be paying as much if not more in rent, even with government supports and non-market housing.

The rent he’s seeing for apartments he could share with his son is way out of his price range.

“Twenty-four hundred, twenty-five hundred,” he said. “There’s nothing in the $1,800 bracket.”

He’s been in touch with BC Housing, and they can put him on a critical housing list, but only once he gets the word that the clock is ticking on his building coming down.

“I’m very fortunate for 90 years old,” he said.

He still drives and is very independent, and would like to stay close to the neighbourhood he lives in now.

But it doesn’t look likely.

Dubbed “demovictions” by housing activists, thousands of people have been forced to move because of the rapid wave of development that has swept over the Lower Mainland in recent years. Many older, relatively cheaper low-rise apartment blocks built in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s are being demolished in favour of larger new rentals or condo projects.

READ MORE: Cost of living driving poor seniors to homelessness

Because B.C. has controls on how much rent can be increased for existing tenants, but few or no restrictions on how much it can be increased when a new tenant moves in, seniors and others on fixed incomes often face a huge rental increase shock.

It’s driving many seniors into homelessness, often for the first time in their lives.

A recent report by United Way, which had input from the Langley Seniors Resource Centre, noted that in Langley Township, 47 per cent of seniors pay more than 30 per cent of their total income on housing costs; in Langley City the figure is 58 per cent.

For some, things are even more extreme. A total of 21 per cent of seniors in the Township spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing, 23 per cent in Langley City.

“What we are seeing is that the income people are making, with the increasing rate of rental, it’s not matching up,” said Wendy Rachwalski, manager of community services at Langley Seniors Resource Society.

Seniors who don’t have a pension from a company they worked for get by on any savings they may have, plus government programs like Old Age Security (OAS), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), and their Canada Pension Plan (CPP) if any.

In addition, B.C. offers Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) which subsidizes the cost of rent.

But those programs are not increasing their payments at anything like the rate at which rent is climbing.

Rachwalski is hearing from desperate Langley seniors who can’t find any housing, including one man who came to the centre for assistance recently.

“He’s living in his truck with his four dogs, because there’s nowhere to go,” she said.

Another call was from someone trying to find help for a local man who is living in an unheated trailer in the yard of a home that’s about to be demolished. He’ll have to leave.

“Where is he going to go?” Rachwalski asked.

There are projects that are helping, Rachwalski noted, pointing to Emmaus Place, built by Shepherd of the Valley Church on 72nd Avenue, and the almost-complete Jennie Gaglardi Place on 56th Avenue, built by Christian Life Assembly.

But they aren’t keeping up with the need.

“In Langley, we have so many buildings being torn down because they are being redeveloped,” said Rachwalski.

Zwingé is luckier than some seniors in similar circumstances – he has a couple of possible non-market housing options.

But if the owner of his current apartment moves forward right away, Zwingé is worried that he’ll have to find somewhere to stay for several months before one of them is available.

He doesn’t want to be a burden on his relatives, who have a house full of kids. He wants to stay close to downtown Langley City if he can.

In the meantime, Zwingé was hoping that high interest rates slow down development plans for his current home – and give him a few more months.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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