November 9, 2023
ISC was recently invited to participate in a Mini Consulting Corp session facilitated by the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE). The session worked with the Seniors Services Society of BC (SSSBC) and addressed the immediate needs of seniors for temporary and emergency housing across BC. Seniors comprise a large and growing number of the unhoused population, and one of the challenges is identifying temporary or emergency housing that can be accessed immediately while the development and construction processes unfold simultaneously.
The housing crisis continues to challenge policymakers and industry stakeholders alike. This intricate issue, especially when viewed through the lens of senior citizens, demands a multifaceted approach. At this recent event, industry leaders, policymakers, and housing experts convened to brainstorm immediate and prospective solutions to the ever-growing homelessness facing seniors in our society. With the population continuing to age, rent continuing to rise, and pensions stagnating, our senior citizens’ housing challenges will be around for a while. The deliberations offer valuable insights and a roadmap towards temporary and emergency housing solutions for these individuals. Our comments here focus on the housing solutions that may be leveraged by interested parties so that they may assist seniors in the short term while awaiting a permanent housing solution.
SSSBC has a program that provides outreach and services to seniors in their jurisdiction and collaborates with service organizations in other areas of the province. This outreach programming can be leveraged more fully to reach more seniors potentially impacted by housing availability. It focuses on early senior engagement. By initiating conversations and interventions at preliminary stages, unnecessary tenant displacements can be significantly minimized. Some of the challenges in maintaining existing tenancies are logistical or administrative, and organizations like SSSBC can leverage their outreach activities to ensure that seniors can stay in their current locations.
The conference intensively debated immediate relief measures since new housing construction has a gestation period stretching into a few years. Seniors who find themselves unhoused cannot wait for the development process to unfold; access to existing housing on a temporary or emergency basis must be explored. Some accommodation styles to think about are:
Hotels: An avenue is already taken by housing agencies across the province, given that the units exist and are intended to be used for temporary accommodation. However, many hotels and motels have already been converted to long-term housing, especially those with kitchen facilities. Those remaining are often expensive and are in demand by the travelling public.
Airbnb / VRBO: While current legislation dampens current and potential availability, the participants saw an opportunity. If legislative loopholes can be granted to use these units by social service agencies, Airbnb / VRBO could emerge as a formidable temporary housing solution.
University Dormitories: The cyclical vacancy of these spaces, especially during academic breaks, offers a temporary yet significant solution. Moreover, amenities and security measures make them an attractive option.
Private Senior Facilities: These establishments, though optimal, are often sidelined due to cost implications. A deeper collaboration, with subsidies or partnerships, could bring them into the fold of viable options.
Religious and Recreational Institutions: Their capacity to serve as makeshift overnight shelters, especially in difficult circumstances, was identified. While not a long-term solution, they can offer immediate reprieve for those facing homelessness.
Vacant Land Parcels: The discussions ventured into unconventional territories like temporary camp housing on vacant parcels (Chateau Atco). While these options demand flexibility from authorities and communities, they could provide a unique and immediate solution.
Residential Homes: The idea of billeting or homestays isn’t novel, but its application in this context is. Homeowners can offer space, especially those with temporary vacancies, such as during academic terms or seasonal vacations. The success of this option hinges on risk management, community trust, and administrative efficiency.
The role of social service organizations was a critical discussion point of the session. While venturing into housing development may have potential in the long term, the part of administrative oversight beckoned for managing emergency needs. Accessing temporary housing units in the private market requires administration and management to de-risk the housing offering to those available.
Administrative Excellence: As potential custodians of this housing movement, the organization could shoulder responsibilities like accommodation contract management. Such roles ensure that the accommodation provider is not disadvantaged while innovation thrives.
Relationship Management: An essential facet of this endeavour is harmonizing relationships between various stakeholders. The organization could emerge as the fulcrum, balancing interests, mediating conflicts, and ensuring seamless collaborations.
End-to-End Oversight: The organization’s role could be comprehensive, from vetting tenants to ensuring a smooth transition at term ends. This is a central concern when looking to open access to currently closed accommodation.
In summation, the CRE Mini Consulting Corp session emerged as a beacon, illuminating the path forward in the housing crisis maze. As the discussions advanced, it became evident that providing temporary and emergency accommodations for seniors is possible with innovation, empathy, and strategic partnerships.