Johanna Henderson is BC Healthy Communities’ Communications Manager.
Hugh and his spouse love the Village of Lytton, a town of about 150 nestled next to a mountain, where two rivers intersect. A time will come when the couple, now in their 70s and living on an acreage, will need to move into town. They don’t want to leave the Village and the community groups and facilities they have used and supported during their lifetimes. Luckily, they may not have to.
“We have a lot of people right now that are above the age of 70 living on acreages. They may want to downsize, but can’t find a residence in town, or may be forced to move off their properties as they can no longer handle the annual maintenance,” says Ian Hay, former city councillor and past chair of the community’s Age-Friendly Housing Committee. He notes that reaching out to service providers and government provided the support needed to address the community’s needs. “Everybody’s heart is in the right place. What we didn’t know at first, and what most people don’t know, is there’s help out there.”
Using funding from a previous Age-Friendly Communities grant, the Village established an age-friendly advisory committee—made up of older adults from all walks of life—and completed an action plan on seniors housing, providing an overview of progress to date, opportunities, challenges, and an outline of the process to move the project forward.
As a next step, the community’s Housing Needs and Demands Study allowed the committee to explore more detailed issues around housing—including how to provide access to the units once built, and who should receive priority access. The committee also considered whether units for those with mental or physical disabilities could be factored into the design, providing housing for those individuals to age-in-place while also potentially opening access to additional funding needed to cover building costs. Additionally, the committee looked at ways of planning for potential hardships among its older adult population, exploring how residents can obtain assistance through advocacy or community partnerships with local faith groups and charities when, or if, they can no longer afford rent due to changing circumstances. A need was also identified for a non-profit to be created to operate and manage any potential housing complex.
Lytton’s study was completed in 2018. The Village now plans to use the information to provide a focused lens on critical housing infrastructure in the municipality. The original committee, which was set to wrap at the end of the study, is now being extended by the Village, to continue to provide needed input from older adults into the land acquisition, funding, and construction process. The ongoing consultation with the Regional District and the neighbouring Indigenous communities is also expected to continue, building on the relationships developed during the creation of the action plan and the study.
What surprised the Village most was how much help was available to them, from government, non-profits and private individuals. It’s hopeful, says Hay.
“I take my hat off to government and Minister [of Municipal Affairs and Housing] Robinson,” says Hay. “We never had a door shut in our face—we had too many doors open!”
Ian Hay’s recommendations for communities looking to take on a similar project:
- Outline the process early on. Arrange meetings with local stakeholders and with BC Healthy Communities Society to determine what services the various partners can provide and when in the initiation, development, funding and construction process they fit.
- Know your audience when communicating. Consultations with older adults in your community are different than those with funding organizations, and correspondence and applications should be drafted with that in mind.
- Have realistic expectations. Shovels can’t go in the ground without locating land, applying for zoning, and working with local community partners, Indigenous communities and others to ensure equitable partnerships in a community-building project.