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North Van lowers minimum age for Lynn Woods affordable seniors' housing

For council, there was some lingering confusion about how Kiwanis found themselves with funding for rooms they couldn’t fill.
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Kiwanis North Shore executive director Stefan Baune stands outside the recently completed Lynn Woods seniors' housing complex in Lynn Valley. The District of North Vancouver is now lowering the minimum age to move in after the non-profit couldn’t find seniors to fill units reserved for people with moderate incomes.

Unable to find enough seniors to fill brand new below-market rentals, Kiwanis North Shore Housing Society and the District of North Vancouver are lowering the age requirements to move in.

In July, Kiwanis found itself in the awkward position of having 61 empty below-market homes after the Lynn Woods apartments opened its doors in Lynn Valley.

The project was financed with $10.6 million from a BC Housing fund that stipulates different levels of affordability for people in different income brackets. Of the 106 rental homes, 20 per cent are reserved for people on social assistance, with rents capped at $375 per month. Half of the units are to be offered at 30 per cent of the gross annual income for people making up to $57,000 per year and the remaining suites were capped $1,570 per month for renters with an annual household income of up to $77,430.

Kiwanis’s mandate is to serve seniors and, at the time of the rezoning, district council wrote a minimum age of 65 into the bylaw governing who could live at the site.

But, despite an extensive search, Kiwanis hasn’t been able to find enough tenants who meet the age requirements and income eligibility, leaving the non-profit short on revenues anticipated in their business plan.

Since July, Kiwanis has been engaged in a successful marketing campaign, said Kiwanis North Shore executive director Stefan Baune, and they have worked with BC Housing to draw on their pool of eligible people for the rent-geared-to-income suites.

Out of the 106 units, 85 are now rented.

“We have made significant progress over the last couple of weeks in order to fill the units,” Baune said.

Two of the still empty units are in the $375 per month category for people on income assistance. The remaining 19 are for households in the higher income bracket.

“In this price range, $1,570 per month, we still have struggled to find renters with an income that supports this amount of rent. And our hope is that with lowering the age from currently 65 to 55, that we will be able to find seniors that are still working,” he said. “Most people have retired or are about to retire.”

As for the deep subsidy units, they must be filled by people registered on BC Housing’s wait list.

“BC Housing has clear eligibility criteria in order to qualify for these units,” Baune said. “Often, people who are in this income bracket or on income assistance are typically younger.”

At the request of Kiwanis, district council voted unanimously Monday (Sept. 19) to lower the minimum age in the bylaw from 65 to 55 for the rent-geared-to-income homes and from 65 to 60 for the low-income homes.

The province’s Community Housing Fund “was not designed to serve seniors exclusively,” the district staff report notes, and Kiwanis’s Lynn Woods was the only seniors housing approved from the fund.

For council members, there was little to debate about changing the age criteria for eligibility.

“I’m happy to see that we’re going to expedite this. It sounds like it’s a good step. I would say that I think many members of council would likely support a different age if this didn’t work,” Coun. Megan Curren said, adding the age requirement leaves Lynn Woods “misaligned” with other projects funded through BC Housing. “I guess the next step will be making sure that those units get filled quickly and if they don’t, to come back and say: 'What do we need?'”

For others, there was some lingering confusion about how Kiwanis found themselves with funding for rooms they couldn’t fill.

“I think the original concept had been vetted and yet, it wasn’t realized based on the number of units that were put in and the different levels of income,” Coun. Lisa Muri said. “That is certainly something that we need to look at prior to going down this road again.”

Mayor Mike Little said he too mainly wanted to see the rooms filled, but he also critiqued the province’s funding model.

“The impression I had was that there were long lineups in really all categories of need in the district and that you wouldn’t have to go through that additional process to identify someone,” he said. “If there are seniors that are in greater need, we need to make sure that the funding formula that matches to fill the units is properly supported and financed from provincial government programs."

Kiwanis North Shore president Patrick McLaughlin said he was grateful for the change.

“We have worked hard together to make this project a success and I have no doubt that the new age limit of 55 years will make a difference in our rental program,” he said.

Despite the hiccups in getting Lynn Woods fully tenanted, the need for affordable rental housing is still great, Baune said.

“The concern about affordability is something that I can empathize with and that's why Kiwanis is doing its best to work with all levels of government to increase the portfolio and to increase the number of units,” he said. “We are definitely in a situation where we are lacking a substantial amount of affordable units for seniors but also for other people in need.”

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