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B.C. seniors' housing vacancy rate rises

Victoria's skyline. (via Darren Stone/Times Colonist)

For the first time in seven years, the vacancy rate for seniors’ housing has improved compared with the previous year, according to a new study by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

CMHC’s annual seniors’ housing report found the vacancy rate for standard spaces in seniors’ residences on Vancouver Island and across the province increased for the first time since 2012, to 4.2 per cent this year from three per cent in 2018.

Eric Bond, CMHC’s principal market analyst for Vancouver, said a greater supply and more seniors choosing to remain in their own homes likely led to the increased vacancy rate.

“We had new residences open in B.C. About 40 per cent of those new spaces were added on Vancouver Island,” he said. “So there were more options for people, and we also found the proportion of seniors 75 and older actually choosing to live in seniors’ residences declined a little.”

There were 324 new seniors’ units built in B.C. last year.

On the Island, the vacancy rate for standard spaces improved to five per cent from 3.3 per cent in 2018. Greater Victoria’s rate improved to 6.3 per cent from 3.5 per cent.

The same factors were at play when it came to rent, Bond said.

He said the slight increase in the average rental rate on the Island to $3,347 per month from $3,267 last year is down to the increase in independent living spaces.

“A greater supply of new residences offers more options, so perhaps there’s less room for opportunities to increase rents in the short term,” he said. “But long term, demand for seniors’ residences, based on demographics, is going to be a very strong market.”

Nineteen per cent of B.C.’s population is 65 years old or older, according to CMHC. That number is expected to increase by 600,000 to 25 per cent by 2036.

Those are the kinds of numbers that have driven growth at Berwick Retirement Communities over the last 20 years.

The company, founded by Gordon and Chris Denford, will soon open its seventh seniors’ residence, its sixth on the Island.

Chris Denford said the demand keeps them going.

“Our buildings are pretty well full,” he said, noting they have a 98 per cent occupied rate across their communities.

Berwick will add 95 new units when its Qualicum Beach residence opens in August — all but 19 have been claimed.

Denford said they have plans for another in Parksville, though that appears to be facing hurdles.

“But we will expand again, for sure. We will keep building them because we enjoy it,” he said.

And there is demand for it.

— Andrew Duffy, Times Colonist