Vancouver seniors housing costly; trades shortage intensifies

 

Seniors market tightens

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child,” runs the old saying, and for renters in Vancouver, they likely paid rents appropriate to a child.

But with greater age comes greater rents, and that should spawn a new way of thinking for all those who crack jokes when the city defines an affordable one-bedroom rent at $1,730 (east side) or $1,903 (west side). According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), a one-bedroom independent-living unit for seniors in the city averages $4,903 a month, up 18% from last year.

On the plus side, while the CMHC reports that the average renter has just 0.9% of the rental stock to choose from, vacancies in Vancouver seniors housing average 3.9%. However, that’s down from 4.6% a year ago. The sharpest decline was among one- and two-bedroom units.

The market is tightest for cheaper units, especially those renting for $1,900 to $2,399 a month, which have a 0.6% vacancy (solid information is not available for other segments below $2,900 a month).

However, CMHC data for the Vancouver Coastal Health region points to an overall drop in the number of non-market (subsidized) living units for independent seniors.

In 2013, there were 1,089 non-market independent-living units; in 2017, that number had fallen to just 828.

The drop came even as the total number of spaces for seniors – everything from independent living to units where residents had access to 90 minutes or more of care each day – rose and were occupied by more people.

Between 2013 and 2018, the count rose from 4,018 units housing 3,945 people to 4,359 units housing 4,524 residents.

Manual aversion

A lack of trades seems to be a perennial cry among contractors, whether because of strong demand or the attrition of an aging workforce. The dire predictions of a report BuildForce Canada – formerly known as the Construction Sector Council – issued in 2009 have largely come to pass, however.

Back in 2008, construction-sector employment was pegged at 132,460 people. By 2017, the report forecast employment of 138,886 and a tight labour market as accelerating retirements boosted replacement demand alone to 3,112 workers a year.

The latest report, issued this past January, says the B.C. construction market has rocked on to a whopping employment of 173,600 people. But the average age of workers also increased, to 42 (from 40 in 2008). Over the next decade, BuildForce expects 21.6% of existing trades to retire – about 40,800 people – while the sector welcomes just 32,800 new entrants.

The pressure is already being felt. To its credit, the 2009 report was largely correct in anticipating today’s shortages. The one exception was for drillers and blasters, where the shortage isn’t yet as great. However, seven non-residential sectors are faring worse than expected: elevator mechanics, power-line and cable workers, heavy equipment mechanics, ironworkers, plasterers and drywallers, steamfitters and pipefitters, and tile installers. These trades are generally not available in local markets, and in the case of power-line workers, the quest has extended to “remote markets” to meet demand.

A particular challenge is matching interest among new entrants with demand.

“It’s not a given that they’re following the same labour market trends,” explained Chris Atchison, president of the BC Construction Association. “A lot of people are going and taking the options that they’re self-determining and deciding to pursue those career pathways.”

During the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s national conference last month, a keynote speaker noted the aversion many youth have to working with their hands.

“When you look at ironworkers or you look at tilesetters, many of the occupations in the trade fall into that highly tactile [area],” Atchison said. “In some cases, we’re seeing that there’s not that fundamental attraction to working with one’s hands.”•

pmitham@telus.net