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'Hard pill to swallow': Seniors respond to rent increases at southwest Calgary retirement home

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Local seniors facing a 55 per cent hike in their rent at a southwest Calgary retirement home will now see that increase cut in half, but some say that’s still too high of a price to pay while living on a fixed income.

In late September, 57 people living at Silvera’s Westview Residence West in Glamorgan were notified of a rent increase scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1, 2024.

Their rent was expected to increase from $1,000 to $1,360 per month and it also came with a mandatory $195 fee to pay for amenities such as shuttle services, access to a guest suite for family fitness classes and a half-dozen meals per month.

On Wednesday Silvera announced that it heard the concerns of its residents and would make rental adjustments. It said that the mandatory monthly fees would be removed for the next year, making the difficult decision to cut the services entirely.

An originally planned rent increase of 55 per cent would also now be adjusted to a 23 per cent uptick instead starting March 1, 2024.

Sheila Leier moved in last year and will see her monthly rent now increase from $1,275 to $1,568. She appreciates the adjustment but said it’s still too expensive.

“Silvera is just compromising for now, but they’ll be looking at it again next round and the rent will be increasing substantially so they’re really just giving us a year,” she said.

“I might have to move now somewhere else. I put my name in for about 25 places around the city for independent seniors but they’re all full. Something has to be done because it’s not only happening to us, it’s a huge impact on seniors but it’s happening all over the city with people unable to afford rent.”

A rent increase letter sent to residents of Silvera for Seniors' West Residence in Glamorgan.

Leier added that Silvera has offered to move her to one of their more affordable facilities in the Livingston Terrace area, but she’s unhappy with that proposition.

“That’s 43 kilometres away from here all the way in the northeast corner of the city which is not ideal. We have our doctors here, everything around us. I made friends here, we made a community and all that could be gone.”

Other residents in the building like Larry Dimen said hearing about the rent increase “shook him to the core” and took away his feeling of home.

“They prove to you in an instant who is in control of where you live and how you’re going to live, but for seniors who are vulnerable that’s a hard pill to swallow knowing the feeling of home is being robbed from you,” he said.

Dimen said he will be moving out in the spring once the rent increase takes effect, noting that he’s fortunate enough to have a place for him and his wife to stay.

“We found ourselves somewhere else to call home that we are sure will be our home, but there's many here who are stuck. They have nowhere else to go and this is it for them.”

'WE TAKE THEIR CONCERNS SERIOUSLY': SILVERA CEO

Arlene Adamson, the president and CEO of Silvera for Seniors, said her team “went back to the drawing board” to help reduce cost pressures that residents had expressed concerns over.

“We take their concerns seriously and I would say the biggest change we’ve been able to reconcile is eliminating the mandatory community hospitality fee of $195,” Adamson said.

“Unfortunately, we’re also having to eliminate the services. That is one way that we can balance both the pressure on the residents, but also the pressure on the organization to meet those rising costs of inflation and things that are out of our control.”

Silvera is a non-profit organization and management notes that the 23 per cent rent increase and removal of mandatory fees are indefinite measures for now which will be looked at further at a later date.

Adamson also made clear that her team is working with residents unable to afford the increase and will continue to assist them in transferring to other Silvera buildings where government subsidies are available.

When asked about how the heartbreaking remarks from residents who don’t feel like Silvera feels like a home, Adamson said she sympathizes with those feelings.

“Of course hearing that breaks our heart, everything we do is about our residents and trying to provide them with quality homes and quality life experiences which is why we offer the enhanced services to increase their connectivity in the broader community.”

“But we’re all facing real challenges with increasing costs and our only option is to not only cut costs, which we have done, but also to make sure the rents are pacing a little bit with those costs that are in an affordable range.”

Silvera says it will meet with residents regularly regarding any future cost updates, but highlights that this 23 per cent increase is in line with the average market rent.

RENT CONTROL WOULD 'DEVASTATE THE MARKET': ALBERTA MINISTER OF SENIORS

Alberta’s Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services, Jason Nixon responded to concerns Thursday over the rent increase Calgary seniors are facing.

He touted his province’s plan to invest $250 million into rent supplements to help individuals including seniors who are living on fixed incomes, but said drastic investment is still needed for the supply of housing.

“This is why Alberta has gone in significantly without other partners including the federal government and municipalities with a nine-billion-dollar investment into affordable housing,” Nixon said.

“The alternative is what some others have called for through things like rent control, which would be devastating for the rent market and we make tens of thousands of people homeless, and we're not addressing the situation there, we have to increase the supply of housing.”

Nixon expanded on rent control saying it would immediately shut down the entire construction market and stop all-purpose build rental and other investments inside buildings.

“So when you’re dealing with the problem of a shortage of supply, that is a drastic impact that in the end will create more people being homeless and will end up being in a situation where we certainly don't have enough houses where we're already short houses.”

Nixon highlighted that Alberta’s construction starts were up 21 per cent across the province for the month of September and that Calgary has seen the largest number of purpose-built rentals in history.

The federal government also recently announced $228 million for the City of Calgary to build more housing.

Member of Parliament for Calgary-Skyview, George Chahal hopes that these investments will pay off in the long-term.

“The increased housing supply with these projects will help so many more people and take the pressure off communities with housing supply and more offsets for housing affordability in the city,” he said.

Increasing housing supply is a priority for our government and I’m so proud that the City of Calgary stepped forward so we can build more homes for Calgarians in need.”

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