Councillor sees need for portable suites

One city councillor wants to roll out affordable housing on wheels for seniors.

  • Aug. 19, 2011 4:00 p.m.

One city councillor wants to roll out affordable housing on wheels for seniors.

Penticton Coun. Mike Pearce gave a notice of motion during Monday’s meeting to have staff investigate the concept of allowing portable suites on single family home sites to allow residents to care for aging family members.

Pearce said he recalls hearing in the 1980s how the health-care system would not be able to build ever more capital structures to accommodate the aging population, and alternatives would be required.

“We need to find a new way to do it,” he said, adding policy makers are now considering 15-year cost projections as baby boomers officially become seniors.

“We still have the problem and it’s escalated significantly, particularly in Penticton area here, where we’re a retirement community for all intents. Over 40 per cent of the people are 55 years and older.”

Home health care isn’t always an option, he explained, because parents and adult children need their own space. But if each had separate accommodation, but were in close proximity to each other, then family members could potentially look after each other.

“Do you really want your aging mother or father living in your house if you can avoid it? What have we traditionally been doing if we didn’t want to do that? They’ve been going into one of these homes, at $2,000 a month and has a long waiting list,” he said.

While council recently approved carriage houses, Pearce said that form of housing comes with its own challenges.

“It’s a complex legal matter to add a carriage house to your property, because if you do have older people, who pays for that building? What happens when that older person dies, what happens to the building, who does it belong to? There’s a proliferation of issues associated with carriage houses,” he said, adding elder care also requires flexibility.

Pearce envisions the units to be smaller than traditional mobile homes with exterior designs that conform to the neighbourhood. They would hook up to family member’s existing sewer, water and power lines, and would have to be licensed by the city.

“The object here is not also to wind up having a whole bunch of secondary accommodation when people can make some revenue off of it,” he said. “It would have to be dedicated and would have to be checked once a year to make sure that it was the same relative that was in there.”

When the family elder requires full-time care or passes on, he said, the unit would also be removed from the site. But everyone would have their dignity in the interim.

“The parent would have his or her independence a fair amount, as would the children. At the same time, if the parent needs attending to, the children could do it,” he said.

Between local modular building outfits and leasing companies that could handle install, removal and upkeep, Pearce argued the city could leverage the housing option to be an economic generator.

“If this thing could work all over British Columbia, it could open up new markets and new employment here,” he said.

The notice of motion will be discussed at the next Penticton council meeting.