The Willow Point Supportive Living Society – which provides affordable housing to low-income seniors – celebrated its 25th anniversary on Saturday amid a growing crisis in affordable housing.
People celebrating the milestone included 99-year-old Lorna Pennock, the oldest resident at the society’s housing complex, Forde House. After cutting the cake, she praised the organization.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s everything I need.”
One of the longtime residents who was in attendance for the party was Margaret Patterson, 90, who has lived at the Willow Point complex for more than 23 years.
“I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere,” she said. “I’m going to stay here as long as I can manage.”
Speakers at the event stressed the lack of housing faced by low-income seniors in Campbell River.
“We need another 90 units,” said Terry Fulton, former Willow Point Supportive Living Society manager. “We could fill it twice with the waiting list we’ve got.”
He noted that construction costs have spiked since the facility opened a quarter century ago, far exceeding the financial means of the organization, which rents its dwellings at below-market rates.
“It’s extremely expensive to try to build,” Fulton said. “There’s no way the society can build a facility and offer affordable housing without huge, huge influxes of money.”
The city would likely provide land, Fulton said, but that only accounts for a small fraction of expenses.
Mayor Andy Adam, one of the speakers at the event, said that “affordable housing and looking after our seniors is critically important to the current council and will [be] for future councils moving ahead.”
Adams is running uncontested for his second term as mayor in council elections that take place on Saturday. He said that Campbell River is working with BC Housing to develop affordable dwellings for the most vulnerable, including seniors.
Glenn Cooper, who became manager of the Willow Point Supportive Living Society last year, confirmed the waiting list is several years long at the complex, which has 48 units currently occupied by 52 people.
Cooper said the transition to living at the facility can be difficult for people used to their longtime homes but that residents soon discover a strong community.
“They always say the same thing: ‘I am never leaving here,’” Cooper said. “They have this wonderful community, it’s connected [and] they look out for each other.”
The complex provides housing to single people with incomes of up to $30,000 per year, or couples with combined incomes of up to $40,000.
Seniors must also have liquid assets worth below $50,000 to be eligible to live at the Willow Point facility.
A report on regional housing needs released earlier this year by the Strathcona Community Health Network said that rent in Campbell River has increased by 42 per cent over the past decade. Meanwhile, the vacancy rate has plunged from seven per cent to 1.3 per cent.
The report notes that seniors are among the most vulnerable when it comes to housing, along with people on low incomes, First Nations people and those with mental health or addictions issues.
-With files from Mike Chouinard