Blog Post – Wed, September 20
Challenges and Solutions: Alberta’s Seniors Lodge Program in Crisis
The Government of Alberta’s commitment to supporting seniors in the province has recently come under scrutiny with ignored pleas to address long-standing issues in funding and supporting seniors’ housing in our province, significant challenges continue to persist. In this blog post, we will explore some of these challenges and the continuing need for a comprehensive review of the Seniors Lodge Program in Alberta.
The Impact of Inflation
One of the most pressing issues facing seniors’ lodges in Alberta is the sustained impact of inflation. Inflation is affecting various aspects of operating seniors’ lodges, including wages, benefits, and operating costs such as food, maintenance, and supplies. Additionally, the carbon tax and inflation are driving up utility costs, and any financing renewals are projected to result in interest rates more than doubling. Unfortunately, wages are not keeping pace with inflation, creating a growing financial strain on seniors’ lodges.
Lack of Capital Funding
A critical concern for seniors’ lodges is the lack of capital funding from the province to maintain the lodges. While the province has introduced the Affordable Housing Partnerships Program for new and replacement construction, addressing life cycle maintenance costs has been inadequate for many years. Currently, many lodges are in dire need of maintenance and repairs, and historically, the province has not provided adequate capital support. The situation has become so dire that some organizations, like Westwinds, have had to virtually eliminate their capital budgets to minimize requisition increases to municipalities. Even in the preliminary estimates for 2024, there is little hope for sufficient capital funding.
The Challenge of the Lodge Assistance Grant
The Lodge Assistance Grant, a crucial source of funding for seniors’ lodges, has not seen an increase since 2018, failing to keep pace with inflation. The consumer price index, a simple way to track inflation, accounts for a year over year cumulative increase of 19.28% between 2018 and July 2023, which limits everyone’s purchasing power, and we, as a Lodge Provider, are challenged with this. This stagnant grant is significantly impacting the lodges’ ability to provide quality services to seniors. To compensate for this shortfall, many lodges have had to substantially increase rents, creating a burden on the residents. In 2023, Westwinds rents were raised by $50 per month, a significant departure from the typical $10-20 per month increase. The expectation for 2024 is a staggering $100 increase per month.
The Need for a Comprehensive Review
While providing an increase in funding is a short-term solution, a more comprehensive review of the Seniors Lodge Program remains. The last review, conducted in 2015, resulted in several recommendations, including indexing the provincial lodge operating grant to inflation, adjusting lodge rental rates to economic rent, and establishing a capital reserve/capital maintenance plan for Housing Management bodies like Westwinds. Regrettably, many of these recommendations were never implemented, leading to a deteriorating program with aging facilities and chronic operational underfunding.
Revisiting the Requisition Philosophy
Another aspect that requires immediate attention is the requisition philosophy, which has evolved over the years. Initially, the program started in the 1960s with municipalities sharing 50/50 operating costs. However, it changed in the 1990s, with the government providing an operating grant based on occupancy and income of the resident, leaving municipalities to cover the rest, inclusive of any reserves and capital deficit. This model may no longer be fair, especially considering the changing needs of seniors and the strain it places on municipalities.
The Impact on Seniors
Ultimately, the impact of these challenges extends to Alberta’s seniors, the very people the Seniors Lodge Program aims to support. A recent resident survey conducted by Westwinds reveals the increasing pressure on seniors due to rising rental rates and diminishing overall satisfaction with the value of their rents.
Call To Action
The Seniors Lodge Program in Alberta faces significant challenges, from the sustained grip of inflation to the lack of capital funding and the stagnant Lodge Assistance Grant. A comprehensive review is still required to address these issues and ensure that seniors in the province receive the care and support they deserve.
Failure to act could result in further deterioration of the program and increased hardship for Alberta’s seniors. It is imperative that the government, in collaboration with housing management bodies and municipalities, work together to find sustainable solutions that uphold the dignity and well-being of seniors in the province.