A development firm is proposing to build a six-storey high-end retirement centre in Dunbar, a move that has sparked strong opposition from residents who say the area needs seniors’ housing that is affordable.
They also object to the height.
If approved, the building, located between 30th and 31st streets on Dunbar Street, would be the highest building in the community. It will also be the first to benefit from the recently passed recommendations in the mayor’s task force on housing affordability, which will allow buildings on all arterial streets in the city to go up to six storeys, instead of the previous four, if they are close to a neighbourhood shopping area.
Nancy Hanna, a social worker in Dunbar and a 10-year resident, said she is concerned the developers are just taking advantage of the new rules and a pretence of affordable seniors’ housing to get extra height and space.
“It’s single-family houses right now and they want more density,” said Hanna.
But Peter Gaskill, president of Pacific Arbour Retirement Communities, insisted the units in his development will be relatively affordable in spite of high land prices in Dunbar — if the company can build six storeys.
“We see the need for this building in the neighbourhood,” said Gaskill. He said there are no retirement homes in Dunbar and a project like this could free up family houses for new residents. His firm has built and operates four retirement homes in the Lower Mainland. The Dunbar project would be its first in Vancouver.
The units at the centre will rent for $4,000 to $5,000 a month — about the same as nearby Crofton Manor. But that amount will also include three meals a day, transportation and housekeeping, said Pacific Arbour chairman Reiner Muller. If all goes as planned, the development could be ready for occupancy by 2016.
Seniors and housing affordability
Gloria Gutman, a professor and former director of Simon Fraser University’s gerontology research centre, said Dunbar is an area that needs seniors’ housing.
But, she added, it’s wrong to assume seniors in that pricey west-side neighbourhood are wealthy.
She said they’re not that different from the majority of Canadian seniors. Statistics show that, although two-third of Canadians over 65 own their own homes, up to 50 per cent of elderly women are surviving on incomes at or below the poverty line.
Dunbar could benefit from housing that would allow residents to age in the neighbourhood they are familiar with, she said, but making it affordable seems to be the biggest issue.
Staying in the same neighbourhood
Alan Andrews, a 73-year-old Dunbar resident who has lived there his whole life, wants to stay in the area. He says many of his friends and acquaintances have moved away to North Vancouver when they decided to downsize, because there are few options besides large single-family homes in Dunbar.
That kind of move is stressful, says Gutman.
Gutman said one of the biggest mistakes people make at retirement is moving away without thinking about friends and family.
“Who will they rely on? People prefer to stay in the same neighbourhood, particularly if you’re frail because you can stay as part of the community and you know where things are,” she said.
Andrews said he needs to stay in the neighbourhood so he can get to hospitals easily for treatment of a serious eye condition. He could afford to move into the retirement centre, once he can’t handle the upkeep of his single-family house. But, he said, most people in Dunbar won’t be able to do that because the centre appears to be geared only for “rich seniors.”