Vacancy rates fail to tell the whole story about seniors housing: official

A seniors housing report shows vacancy rates are falling in Alberta and nationwide. The vacancy rate in the province’s 7,600 standard spaces — where residents require less than 1.5 hours of care per day — has fallen to 8.1 per cent from 8.5 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report released on Wednesday.

A seniors housing report shows vacancy rates are falling in Alberta and nationwide.

The vacancy rate in the province’s 7,600 standard spaces — where residents require less than 1.5 hours of care per day — has fallen to 8.1 per cent from 8.5 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report released on Wednesday.

When non-standard units offering a higher level of care are included, the numbers are 6.8 per cent and 6.6 per cent. The report does not have a breakdown for Central Alberta or Red Deer.

However, those numbers don’t reflect the overall demand for spaces for publicly funded seniors accommodations in Central Alberta, say seniors housing representatives.

“We’re sure not experiencing the vacancy rates that they are reporting here,” said Piper Creek Foundation executive director Geoff Olson.

He notes the report only covers the foundation’s lodge spaces, as well as private seniors housing, such as those run by Club Sierra or Symphony. CMHC does not include nursing homes or long-term care homes, or life-lease or owner-occupied units in the survey.

Olson said residents often come to Piper Creek because they cannot afford the rents in private buildings. Many housing options require an annual income in the $30,000 range.

The CMHC report estimated the average rent in Alberta for bachelor and private rooms, where at least one meal is included for most units, rose this year to $2,515 per month, or $30,180 per year.

For the market the foundation serves, vacancy rates are non-existent.

“We’re over-subscribed, as we usually are,” he said, adding 42 singles and five couples are on a waiting list for lodge spaces in Red Deer. The foundation also offers another 354 apartment units in its senior self-contained program and the affordable program offers 89 units.

“The real trick is affordability,” he said. “On the private sector side they are really geared to a certain income range.”

It is when those units are factored in that vacancy rates hit the six- and eight-per-cent ranges.

The Alberta government announced this spring it was going to rebuild 65 units at Piper Creek Lodge, but that won’t add more units to the city’s 200-unit inventory, said Olson.

Mountain View Seniors’ Housing chief administrative officer Sam Smalldon said he has wait lists as well and vacancy rates of two per cent for his 403 units are typical, although that has been shifting upwards slightly recently.

Smalldon said as a publicly-funded housing management body, they aim for lower prices and greater value, and the results are lower vacancy rates.

“I know we’re adding units and I’m filling them. I’m able to maintain a very low vacancy rate because there is demand.”

Any project that goes ahead, such as the 103-unit project now underway in Sundre, does not go ahead without a detailed demand assessment ahead of time.

Smalldon said for the kinds of units that Mountain View Seniors’ Housing provides, demand routinely outstrips supply.

Ron Rose, of the Central Alberta Council on Aging, said the group had not had time yet to analyze the report.

However, the concern they most often hear from seniors is the cost of housing, he said in an email.