Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column June 11, 2014 Seniors Housing

Opinion: Seniors housing needs a range of choices
Michael Geller / Vancouver Courier
June 10, 2014 03:12 PM
The Louis Brier Home and Hospital is an example of a larger seniors' facility in Vancouver that provides excellent care for the elderly. Photo Michael Geller

Recently, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation organized its annual visit to heritage properties potentially threatened by future redevelopment.

Of the 11 stops on this year’s tour, by far the most popular was Casa Mia, the magnificent Spanish-style mansion at 1920 Southwest Marine Drive.

As previously reported, this property, with its large ballroom featuring a sprung dance floor, is considered one of Vancouver’s best known heritage houses.

It is the subject of a controversial rezoning application by the Care Group which, if approved, would designate it a heritage structure in return for approval to convert it into a seniors care facility, along with a sizeable addition.

In a recent column, I called this proposal “questionable.” I question the appropriateness of this location for the proposed scale of development, as well as the size and design of the proposed addition.

However, this column is not about the application per se. Instead I would like to address the statement on Casa Mia issued by the Vancouver Seniors Advisory Committee, a city council-appointed committee with a mandate to advise the mayor and council on issues affecting older adults in Vancouver.

The committee opposes this development. Let me quote from their report: “As has been raised in our submissions concerning the Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment, we believe that the Green House Project Model of housing is superior to institutional housing for seniors and people with disabilities. We are opposed to the development of any new institutions, which by their very size and nature tend to ‘warehouse’ people.”

The typical green house project provides accommodation for 10-12 residents. It is designed to blend in with surrounding houses and neighbourhood.

Each resident has a private room and bathroom and shares a living room, dining room and kitchen where staff and residents can eat together and socialize. There are no fixed or strict schedules for eating or bathing.

Meals are prepared on site, rather than pre-cooked. Staff include “total care workers” who are trained to manage a range of daily activities such as cooking, housekeeping, and care. There is a clinical support team that provides individualized care for each elder.

I am certain many seniors and their families find the green house project model very appealing and would like to see this type of accommodation built in neighbourhoods around Vancouver. I agree and think it is important that zoning bylaws allow them to be built.

However, I worry that a council-appointed committee for seniors appears to be decreeing that this should be the only model for all new care facilities to be developed in Vancouver, since its membership believes larger facilities inevitably become institutions that warehouse the elderly.

This has not been my experience.

For 10 years I worked for CMHC during which time I co-authored the 1970s publications Housing the Elderly and Housing the Handicapped. I was subsequently involved with the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the planning and development of dozens of assisted living and care facilities around Metro Vancouver.

While I have met many seniors who hope to remain in their house “until they carry me out in a box,” they know that at some point it may be necessary to move into a form of supportive housing.

This might be congregate housing, which provides a self-contained rental or ownership suite in a building offering shared dining and recreational facilities, or assisted living or care facilities. Just as we want a range of housing choices in the years leading up to becoming a senior citizen, we deserve to have a broad range of choices when we get older, including small facilities like the green house project, and large new facilities offering a broader array of amenities.

Some may be government-funded while others are totally private pay. They would be developed by ethnic, religious or community based organizations such as the Lions Club or Rotary, or purely commercial enterprises like those developed by members of the B.C. Care Providers Association.

While none of us wants to be warehoused when we are older, we might want to live in a converted Casa Mia, especially if we can party late into the night on its sprung dance floor.


© Vancouver Courier

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