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Available options still out of reach for many people
Editor’s note: The one thing we all have in common is that we’re getting older by the day, and as we age, our priorities and lifestyles change.
In time, many of us will have to deal with similar issues — staying independent and active, maintaining a social life, getting involved (or staying involved) in volunteer work and community advocacy, finding the right housing fit for our lifestyles, and making the transition to retirement.
In this six-part series, The Telegram’s Ashley Fitzpatrick talks to people about what they’ve learned from their own experiences.
Shirley Parsons and her husband lived in a basement apartment for 24 years before they made the decision to move on. That decision came out of conversations they had with the owners, who had been giving a good price on rent.
“They were up in their late 70s. He’s 92 now and she’s 90 and they were thinking they weren’t going to be taking boarders anymore,” Parsons said, in a recent interview with The Telegram.
Instead of home sweet home, she’s found housing to be hit and miss since. The truth, she’s found, is home is not always so sweet.
In the last public status update on the Provincial Healthy Ageing Policy Framework, in 2015, it was noted 83 per cent of people over the age of 65 in the province own their own home. Homeowners are challenged by long-term maintenance and upkeep, down to keeping the driveway clear of snow. On the flip side, renters like Parsons have spoken to The Telegram about experiencing a sense of uncertainty.
Parsons said she and her husband had a bad experience in an apartment building. They settled again, happy, and then were faced with a horrible smell — reaching the point of having to put kitty litter in different rooms to absorb the odor. Then they found evidence of mould. And they had to vacate while the problem was being addressed.
The couple went searching for a place on a moment’s notice, calling around. Housing options were available, Parsons said, but something affordable for them was a different story.
“I couldn’t find nothing affordable. I got the list here, the places I called. The rent was unreal.” — Shirley Parsons
Parsons, 69, acknowledged a lot can be said about “affordable.” She and her husband have more than some people do, but the hard reality was the options were still too expensive for them.
They weren’t on a list with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. They had been in a partially subsidized unit that is not a Housing property. The response from their landlord was supportive, Parsons said, but they still needed a place to go that day.
“I couldn’t find nothing affordable. I got the list here, the places I called. The rent was unreal,” she said.
They called some hotels, including the Holiday Inn, which helped. “And that’s where they put us. At the Holiday Inn from Oct. 11 to Nov. 30,” she said.
They’ve since been relocated to another apartment building.
“And I was so tired. Just tired, tired, tired,” she said.
While there have been a few over the years, the most recent experience was a real eye-opener for Parsons, who said people in the province should talk more about housing, what’s available and what’s needed, and how to get it developed while it is needed.
Asked what would be an ideal home, Parsons said collections of small homes together. Homes with accessibility in mind and everything on one floor.
She said she’s spoken to St. John’s Coun. Hope Jamieson on the topic.
“I said, ‘Hope, I want one of those tiny homes, but I want it all on one level,’” she said, recalling that the councillor was receptive and spoke about some of what the city is working on.
Jamieson told The Telegram it’s been tackled in the Affordable Housing Strategy and is being considered in new development regulations. The city is interested in permitting tiny homes, she said, either in standalone developments or in a cluster — a “pocket neighbourhood.” A draft of the new development regulations should be coming to council in the next couple of months and circulating publicly for comment soon after.
Apart from that, the city is looking to directly spur project financing, exploring federal programs and offering the Affordable Housing Catalyst Fund, launched in 2016. Applications are typically due in late fall each year, with the fund offering up to $10,000 in support for a development project.
“That goes for innovative affordable housing projects in the city,” Jamieson said.
She said there is a longer waiting list for smaller, affordable housing units than units for big families, so the city is exploring more retrofits to existing housing stock, potentially leveraging federal funding.
“We understand fully that this is part of the affordable housing equation right now. Seniors are a big piece of that and it’s something we absolutely need to address, as more and more people are moving to fixed incomes. We’ve definitely got our eye on that situation,” she said.
Parsons said she could rattle off the names of a dozen people who would be interested in settling in a small, cottage-style home, if they could afford it. But she wonders about the time required to pass legislation, see new projects proposed and financed, permitted and built.
“It’ll be good for the next generation,” she said, wondering aloud if they’d want the same thing, if they even think much about it.
Parsons said personal finances as we age is another topic in need of more discussion and debate.
She has effectively retired. She worked in retail, changing jobs when a shop closed or a more attractive opportunity came along. She worked at a jeweler’s, she worked at a clothing store. She moved into a job at a chiropractor’s clinic.
“Retail is wonderful. It’s really good. The only thing is there’s (generally) no pensions,” she said. She found some benefits, like discounts on whatever the company might provide. But retirement wasn’t a common topic of discussion.
She says she’d be interested in going back to work but has had trouble related to her Fuchs’ dystrophy — a disease of the cornea.
At last count, about 28 per cent of the people in the province age 55 and over are still working, as are 9.6 per cent of people 65 and over.
- GETTING OLDER: Staying in the game
- GETTING OLDER: The drive for independence
- GETTING OLDER: Somebody to lean on
- GETTING OLDER: Lending a hand
- GETTING OLDER: It takes a village …
- Seniors looking forward to opening of new apartments
- St. Anthony, Gander projects included in affordable housing funding for seniors
- Nearly a hundred new affordable housing units announced for Newfoundland and Labrador