Future uncertain for seniors living in private residences in Quebec

Originally published by the Canadian Press April 27th, 2010. To go to Canadian Press Website please click here

MONTREAL – Nestled in a wooded area on a dead-end road away from the shopping malls and the family life of suburbia, the Marian Hall Residence looks, from the outside, to be an ideal seniors residence. The two-storey apartment building has been home to John Whatmore for almost 20 years and, for the most part, he and the other retirees living there have enjoyed a good lifestyle.

“We’re in the middle of the woods, the rents are reasonable, it’s quiet,” he said in a recent interview. “The maintenance is still quite good.”

The retired Air Canada shop inspector moved into Marian Hall in 1991, and although it’s small, Whatmore is quite happy in his compact apartment.

But he says residents, whose average age is about 70, started worrying about six years ago when the moderate-income residence was put up for sale.

The seniors became even more concerned when a “firm offer” to purchase the building was made in early 2009.

Whatmore says there are now at least 20 vacant apartments in the 60-apartment home and six more may soon be left empty.

“Vacancies have not been filled over the last two years,” he said. “Nobody has come in.” He said that last year, there were 40 applications from people wanting to move into the home, where rents range from $350 to $700 per month.

The future appears to be uncertain for the seniors who “are living on borrowed time.” “They’re afraid, they’re upset, they can’t plan for anything,” the feisty senior said as he tried to relax in one of the clean and comfortable lounges. “They’re powerless.”

“How can I really plan for anything or do anything when you know in a couple of months I may have to move?”

Behind him, as he chatted with a reporter, another resident was packing boxes and getting ready to move to Ontario.

Whatmore explained that the senior “didn’t like the idea of see-sawing all the time, wondering what’s going to happen.”

But for residents at another Montreal seniors dwelling, their future has already been decided. The Griffith-McConnell Residence is closing its doors at the end of June because of declining occupancy, forcing more than 170 seniors to find new homes.

“Our deficit is running at about $100,000 per month, which is unsustainable,” Peter McAuslan, the chairman of the home’s board of directors, said in a statement on the Griffith-McConnell website. “Without the public sector beds and an investment of close to $13 million in our facility, we simply can no longer make a go of it.”

Susan Eng, who does advocacy work for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, admits not much can be done to protect seniors who find themselves in such situations.

She says private institutions have their ups and downs in profits and losses, and when they have to close, they have no legal obligations to those who have come to depend on them.