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Vancouver’s gay and grey look east for affordable homes

Christine Waymark and Robin Rennie have what many Vancouver couples want. They own a quaint character home in Kitsilano which…

Christine Waymark and Robin Rennie have what many Vancouver couples want. They own a quaint character home in Kitsilano which they bought together in 1991.

The couple, now in their 70s, had planned to live independently for as long as possible, so when Robin was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s, everything changed.

“If we try and live on our pensions, we wouldn’t be able to afford much at all. So its only because we have the house, that we have it as an asset,” said Waymark.

They made the decision to sell their home, but they cannot afford to stay in Kitsilano and support themselves on one income. They are now looking east to an area where housing is more affordable and where they will feel more welcome as an openly lesbian couple.

The couple have been together for 33 years.
The couple have been together for 33 years.

Getting to know you 

Rennie and Waymark met at Kitsilano Secondary School and they sung together in the same choir. Waymark married and had four children. Rennie was also married, but she did not have children. The women lost touch and reconnected when Rennie hired Waymark as a counsellor in her practice.

By then, each had separated from her spouse and their friendship grew. Later, when Rennie needed a new home, Waymark invited her to move in with her and her teenaged children.

A decade later, Rennie was toying with changing her name at a dinner party, when Waymark  blurted out, “Why not Waymark?”

That was 2004, Rennie and Waymark recently celebrated their 33rd anniversary together as a couple.

Kits in Flux

The couple bought their home in Kits in 1991 and they enjoyed living in a place where they could get to know their neighbours. Since then, Kitsilano has since become one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Vancouver. The average price for a single family dwelling is over $1.5 million dollars.

Their home in Kitsilano, which they bought in 1991.
Their home in Kitsilano, which they bought in 1991.

“The houses have gotten bigger, and we hardly know are neighbours anymore,” said Waymark.

They do not anticipate any problem selling their home, but they worry that their home equity may not be enough for them to afford the cost of Rennie’s care.

Their monthly expenses already exceed $1300 with medical bills, support groups, physiotherapy and additional care. Waymark expects the cost of Rennie’s care will rise.

“Alzheimers is a very expensive disease, and Robin had to finish work much sooner than we thought.”

The couple had planned to retire in their seventies, but Robin showed symptoms of Alzheimers in her early sixties. When Rennie took early retirement at 63, Waymark took over duites in their practice and in their home. The diagnosis prompted one of their daughters to move from Victoria to Vancouver  to help out.


East Van Hopes

The couple are now looking for a new home in East Vancouver where they believe housing will be more affordable and their neighbours will be more friendly to an openly lesbian couple. They will also be closer to their children and their writing group Quirk-e.

“Now I am reconciled with the fact of selling our house. I am looking forward to moving into an area that is more friendly” said Waymark.

While East Vancouver is known for its co-ops and co-housing, they want to maintain an independent household where Waymark can still run their business.

“It can’t be an apartment, because we’re committed and so are our children, to Dragonstone (their centre) continuing. So a house would be good for that in that we can rebuild offices for the centre,” said Waymark.

Queer-sensitive support 

The couple are hoping if they can find a less expensive home they can also find appropriate care.  They have  hired caregivers through an agency and Vancouver Coastal Health in the past. Waymark found the experience difficult. “I said right away, ‘I want you to put on my file that we’re lesbians’ and she looked at me and asked why? I said I don’t want anybody here who isn’t okay with that. She said, ‘you wouldn’t want that on your file would you?” said Waymark.

The couple are looking to East Van for their new home, which will be closer to their grandkids.
The couple are looking to East Van for their new home, which will be closer to their grandkids.

Their experience is not out of the ordinary according to the manager of the Seniors Services Society Anna Truong.

“What we have found is when we are surveying older adults who identify as being LGBT, they tend to hide the LGBT-ness of them in order to maintain their housing or save their housing and to get housing” said Truong.

Her agency helps at-risk and homeless seniors in the Lower Mainland. “It’s common for the older LGBTQ seniors to be bullied by their neighbours, and to be harassed by their landlords.”

Rennie and Waymark hope to avoid those problems by living in an area where they are accepted. This April, they were  approved for the Choices in Supportive Independent Living (CSIL) program.

They will now receive $2000 a month to help pay for additional supports. Waymark can hire caregivers to help dress, bathe and care for Rennie, so that she can continue working.

The in-home support is helping now, but they understand that at some point they may need long-term care and that may be difficult to find.

There is an increasing demand for appropriate and affordable housing for LGBTQ seniors in Vancouver. Alex Sangha is working on a project called Dignity House an LGBTQ seniors facility where people can live out and independently.  “I’m concerned about affordable housing for people who don’t have money and need a place to stay,” said Sangha.

[pullquote align=right]We are looking for a house with a nice kitchen and no stairs[/pullquote]His idea offers some hope for couples like Rennie and Waymark. They are encouraged by the thought of a queer sensitive space for seniors. But Waymark is hoping to rely on family and not to have to move to a facility “It’d better be my children!” she said.

“We are fortunate in our situation,” said Waymark. The pair have a loving family, a home to sell and the ability for one of them to work. So far, they are able to plan the move together and their must have list is taking shape.

“We are looking for a house with a nice kitchen and no stairs,”  said Waymark. A place where Rennie can continue to bake her “famous lemon meringue pie.”