Affordability has been a topic of concern for many Albertans in recent years, but seniors on fixed incomes are especially noticing the tightening grip on their spending power.
While groceries have gone up, as well as utilities, insurance, and gas for their vehicles, the biggest challenge for many is housing, according to a group of seniors at the Over 50 Club in Airdrie.
“I feel bad for a lot of people that can't cohabit with someone else –having to pay out of one [income],” said Lynda Watfa, secretary of the Over 50 Club. “I pay half of what I make per month for household stuff, and then my car payment and gas [and everything else] has to come out the other half.”
Watfa said she lives with her daughter and granddaughter, and is grateful they get along and do okay together.
She said she unfortunately still has a mortgage to pay, but her daughter now pays more of their housing expenses than Watfa does.
The City of Airdrie hit a benchmark price for detached homes upwards of $600,000 for the first time ever in August, according to the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB).
Watfa added that while she could sell her home for $100,000 above what she bought it for, she’s then left to find housing in an unaffordable market.
If she wasn’t living with her daughter, she said things would be dire.
“Multi-generational housing is coming back again,” she said. “It used to be a thing of the past, but it's coming back because the younger generation is looking for help from the seniors, financially or with the kids, and seniors are looking for financial help…”
For many seniors who are downsizing, the rental market hasn’t been much easier on them.
The overall housing market dynamics indicate a tightening supply with a 37 per cent year-over-year decrease in months of supply, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
Maureen Wyborn, a member of the Over 50 Club who currently rents a two-bedroom apartment in Airdrie, said her son encouraged her to look for more affordable housing and to add herself onto waitlists for affordable senior spaces.
Collectively, the group of four seniors from the Over 50 Club, said they had heard stories from others who were struggling to pay rent or experienced rental increases they couldn’t afford.
Affordable seniors housing
The Rocky View Foundation has several senior housing facilities in Rocky View County and the City of Airdrie.
In September, they opened the new supportive living lodge in Airdrie; Abrio Place.
This facility added 68 affordable units to the community, which filled within mere months with little to no advertising.
Despite the additional seniors’ suites, a waitlist is growing from week to week for a place to live.
“We operate both independent and supportive living housing for seniors, and in both regards we've seen quite an increase in our waiting list over the past year,” said Chris Rowe, interim CAO of Rocky View Foundation, adding that this is a trend they’ve seen over several years.
“We also operate the rental assistance benefit program for the Government of Alberta for the Rocky View region,” Rowe said. “And again there, we've seen more and more people calling consistently every day looking for assistance with rent, especially seniors.”
He said the Foundation has heard stories from residents who experienced bad living situations, including sharing suites, living in unfinished basements, and even temporarily living in cars.
Seniors from the Over 50 Club said there is a great need for more affordable housing in Airdrie.
“When there's waitlists to get into affordable housing then they definitely need more,” said Watfa.
According to Watfa, Community Links comes to the Over 50 Club every first Wednesday of the month to present information on different topics.
“Community Links have the ability to point [seniors] in the right direction when they have a question,” Watfa said.
Community Links did not provide any comment upon request from Airdrie City View.
The Rocky View Foundation is working on several projects including Big Hill Lodge in Cochrane, as well as other independent living projects.
The majority of their waitlists are for places that allow some independence with their own kitchen, according to Rowe.
Rowe said that housing projects all depend on government funds.
“[We] have to make it self sustainable, but are also dealing with trying to keep the rents at a point where people can afford it,” he said. “So we really rely on the governments at every level.”
To keep rent affordable, mixed rental projects are key, he said. This is because having some market or near market rental apartments help to offset the affordable suites, making the project self-sustainable and operational with affordable rates.
For most of their facilities, the waitlists reflect the size of the community it is in, Rowe said.
He noted the challenge in rural communities is that there is already less available housing and less to choose from.
Seniors from the Over 50 Club commented that while there may be available spaces outside of Airdrie, this has an impact on seniors who’s families live in Airdrie and their activities are also in Airdrie.
Aside from housing, there are plenty of other challenges facing seniors on fixed incomes.
“Utility costs have gone up, fuel costs have gone up, over the last number of years and so all those things impact everybody's purchasing power,” Rowe said. “But when you're on a fixed income with relatively small real year-to-year adjustments to those fixed amounts, those impacts can be quite staggering.”
Any change in prices can have a drastic impact and seniors start to question if they can afford even the essentials, Rowe said.
“And food is definitely impacted by that,” he said.
Several seniors from the Over 50 Club in Airdrie noted that the price of food has become a bigger worry since the pandemic.
“Groceries are expensive and rent keeps going up every year,” said Maureen Wyborn. “I'm on a fixed income and the [government] really cuts you back if you make even ten dollars more than you're supposed to; so that's hard.”
She added that all bills have increased, including the phone and cable.
“What I say about grocery shopping now, it's like window shopping,” Watfa said. “[I pick it up] and think, ‘Oh it would be good but I don't really need it.’ It's a whole lot easier now to make those decisions whether you need something or whether you just want it.”
Wyborn added she stopped buying unnecessary items like ketchup and another senior, Cathy Schneider Lorentz also chimed in, saying that even a trip to McDonalds is expensive now.
“I just applied for Airdrie Fair Access, where you can get a 25 to 75 per cent discount on memberships at Genesis Place or transportation and now also at Bert Church Theatre as well,” Watfa said. “[I] got 75 per cent off, I didn't know I was so poor that I could get that amount off.”
On top of all the affordability issues, the group of seniors mentioned the lack of healthcare accessibility in the City of Airdrie. Which, for some, also has a financial impact when they have to make their way into the City of Calgary for health services.
In terms of affordability, the group encouraged young people to start saving now to help themselves out later.
“It's always good to encourage your kids to start investing young in whatever vehicle, and sit down with a good financial planner,” Watfa said. “You have to look after yourself, you can't depend on your parents to leave you anything.”