Terry Lyster

Terry Lyster

Seniors’ housing options explored at Langley workshop

Owners need to be more involved in development process, says former Langley Township planner.

Finding better ways to involve owners in the home development process may play a large role in finding solutions to seniors housing needs, according to a local development veteran.

“Shelter comes in many, many different flavours,” said consultant and former Langley Township municipal planner Terry Lyster at the Triple A Senior Housing Workshop, held in November at the Langley Seniors Resource Centre.

“Often the solutions to providing housing is for people who aren’t developers to develop.”

Lyster brought an optimistic view to the meeting of concerned community members and seniors housing advocates, presenting two innovative models of community-based housing projects: co-housing and non-profit housing development.

Neither solution is a magic bullet, he explained, but would help create greater access to affordable housing that meet the needs of the community’s senior population.

According to Lyster, successful land developers can make a profit margin of up to 20 per cent, meaning the price housing seekers pay is a reflection of the market, not the actual costs of consulting, designing and building the project.

In co-housing, a model pioneered in Europe, members of the project pool their money to design a shared living facility with both private quarters and community spaces. Essentially, they take on the role of project developer, something Lyster says encourages them to learn more about their investment.

“On one dimension it’s kind of a semi-religious notion that there’s a proper way for people to live together … but it’s also a very practical way for a group of people to build themselves a small, functional neighbourhood,” explained Lyster, who was involved in the design stage of the North Langley WindSong Co-housing Community, the first purpose-built project of its kind in Canada.

At WindSong, 12 families spanning of varying ages built a multi-family complex, coming together democratically to design the facility to meet their specific needs.

The long-term benefits of the project were impressive. The families saved money by combining resources and supported each other as a community. Lyster recalled that early in WindSong’s existence a member fell extremely ill, and instead of ending up in the emergency ward was able to receive 24 hour in-situ nursing care.

In the not-for-profit approach, a group of people form a housing co-op and decide what they want to develop to suit their needs – be it apartments, single occupancy homes or mixed use dwellings. The co-op functions as both investor and builder and reduces cost by eliminating the developer’s profit margin and making use of “internal subsidies”, such as resources like timber that members may be able to contribute to project at reduced cost.

Lyster is a member of Options for Homes: Langley, which is working to bring the non-profit approach to the area, and includes a plan to manage a fund that will function like an internal credit union, providing  15 per cent second mortgages to members.

Lyster cautioned that in either example, housing seekers must make a commitment to understanding  project financing, municipal laws and the expectations of everyone from bankers to building inspectors.

“We all want to remain in our own home when we age,” said aging-in-place consultant and Township Seniors Advisory Committee member Marilyn Fischer, who noted at the meeting that there is a group in the very early stages looking at seniors co-housing development in the Langleys.

She called the today’s seniors dealing with housing challenges and the oncoming baby boomer retiree population the “Silver Tsunami,” and emphasized the need to start making changes now to address the needs of this population.

Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health Authority medical health officer, presented detailed statistics and graphs about Langley’s population of seniors, and spoke on how it is expected to grow to be about 25 per cent of the population in 20 years.

She said that hospitalization rates and risk factors are much higher for seniors in lower socioeconomic groups. Only about 15 per cent of factors impacting on health are out of individuals’ control, she said.

“Housing is an iceberg,” she said. “Many challenges lie buried, including the hidden homeless, substandard housing and affordability.”

Lee said that 7.3 per cent of seniors in Langley live below the low income cutoff level, and one in three live alone.

Low-income adults spend up to 80 per cent of their income on housing.

“Housing can have a huge impact on health,” she said. “Where you live can have an effect on  your health.”

Lee said that a focus on proper housing for seniors will have an impact on the health system, as it will likely lead to reduced hospitalization and other health care costs.

She said this is very important for the provincial government, as without any changes, 70 per cent of the provincial budget will go towards health care by 2017-18.

She said Langley groups need to work together with the health authority and other agencies to promote healthy living and housing options.

Dale McClanaghan, a housing and real estate consultant who works with the Social Planning and Research Council, said the 2011 census showed 4,240 seniors in the City and 13,885 in the Township — about 14 per cent of the population. A much higher proportion of seniors in the City are renters. In the City, about 19 per cent of seniors spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing. The Township figure is 13 per cent.

“There is a shortage of units affordable to households with lower incomes,” he said.

The median income of owners and renters shows a startling contrast. Langley seniors who are owners have median incomes of $42,751 in the City, $47,770 in the Township, while renters’ average incomes are $21,009 in the city and $23,205 in the Township.

He pointed out that, since 1985, housing policies of senior governments have been tilted towards ownership. The federal government essentially stopped funding social housing in 1993, and provincial funding has been lower than it was, although targeted programs such as SAFER, a rent supplement, have been quite effective, he said.

One of the biggest challenges is that the supply of rental units has basically dried up, and he acknowledged that it is not profitable to build rental housing.

Langley Township councillors Kim Richter and Charlie Fox attended the workshop, but there was no representation from Langley City.

— with files from Frank Bucholtz