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New West to call on province to provide financial relief to seniors

Report finds that 24.1% of New Westminster seniors lived in unaffordable housing in 2021.
elderly seniors in the city of delta, bc
New West city council will write to the province seeking more support for low-income seniors.

New Westminster wants the province to take action to ensure senior renters are not priced out of their homes.

At its July 8 meeting, council unanimously approved a motion from Coun. Ruby Campbell related to the provincial Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters (SAFER) program. Council will write to B.C.’s premier, minister of housing and minister of health asking for immediate financial relief for low-income senior renters by redesigning the SAFER program so seniors’ rents are 30 per cent of their income and rent ceilings are adjusted to reflect the current reality of the rental market.

Campbell said her motion was inspired by a discussion that took place in June at a townhall meeting hosted by the Century House Association’s Time 4 Change committee. She said the June 6 meeting focused on the housing crisis and how it relates to seniors.

“On that evening, we learned that between the years 2016 and 2021, the number of seniors living in New Westminster increased by 17.2 per cent; by comparison, the overall population in British Columbia increased by 11.2 per cent. So significantly higher in New Westminster,” she said. “In 2021, 24.1 per cent of New Westminster seniors lived in unaffordable housing.”

Campbell said that means that those seniors are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

“That includes 42.8 per cent of senior renters and 16.9 per cent of senior owners,” she said.

Panellists at the June 6 townhall included Dan Levitt, the new BC Seniors Advocate. John Stark, the city’s senior social planner, and New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside were also panellists.

“At the town hall, the seniors advocate presented findings from the newly released report Ageing Matters: What We Heard from B.C. Seniors, and it reaffirmed B.C. seniors on fixed incomes are disproportionately impacted by the high cost of living and unable to absorb increased costs for housing, food, medical equipment, mobility aids and other necessities for healthy aging,” Campbell said. “More specifically, the provincial government’s Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters subsidy program does not address the financial pressures experienced by seniors who rent.”

According to Campbell, the province made improvements to the SAFER program in April 2024.

“But unfortunately, that increase still falls short of what is needed to address the affordability crisis faced by seniors who rent,” she said.

Council members unanimously supported Campbell’s motion, but it wasn’t without some testy moments.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he supports the motion but questioned if Mayor Patrick Johnstone has done any advocacy on the issue during meetings with provincial ministers.

“Has anyone maybe picked up the phone and called the premier or the minister before we are sending off and writing a letter on this?” he said. “Has anyone done any advocacy in advance of this motion tonight, given the close …  connections that we have with New West and the government in Victoria? Have you made any calls?”

Johnstone responded by saying he’s happy to support a council member’s request to send a letter to the province advocating on this issue. He said a letter from council would be helpful as part of the city’s advocacy on the issue.

“I think it's very appropriate that council send letters to advocate,” he said. “I just don't know why you would be surprised.”

The motion was the final item on a jam-packed agenda. More to come on other issues covered at Monday’s evening meeting and afternoon workshop.