Skip to main content

Retirement Concepts has about 24 retirement-nursing homes, including Selkirk Place in Victoria, B.C.Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Vancouver-based Retirement Concepts has given notice to the local health authority that it will no longer house subsidized residents at one of its assisted-living facilities in the city's west side, but the company insists the decision is not related to the firm's recent sale to a Chinese insurance giant.

In a joint letter to tenants, Terraces on 7th and Vancouver Coastal Health said the decision to end the contract, which covered 21 units, was "based on a business decision" and unrelated to a recent deal in which a subsidiary of Anbang Insurance acquired a majority stake in Retirement Concepts, B.C.'s largest provider of seniors' care.

In response to questions from The Globe and Mail, VCH and Retirement Concepts both said Terraces on 7th was not included in that deal, which drew attention for its size – believed to have exceeded $1-billion – and foreign-ownership concerns.

Two of Retirement Concepts' 24 facilities – Terraces on 7th and the Gardens at Qualicum Beach – were excluded from the recent transaction, company spokeswoman Olivia Chang said.

The deal has been approved by both the federal and B.C. governments.

That explanation did little to reassure Edward Tian, whose 85-year-old mother, Mary Tian, learned of the change this week after living at Terraces on 7th for about a decade.

"My mother has lived there for years and years – and now this new ownership has come into being … now all of a sudden they are dropping assisted living, something they have had there for years," Mr. Tian said.

He added that his main concern is where his mother will live.

"It's more about where my mother is going to go."

The notice date is Sept. 30. There are currently 20 private-pay units, for a total of 41 units, in the facility.

In the letter to residents, VCH and Terraces say they are "committed to supporting you as valued residents/clients through this time of transition" and that residents will be given priority at one of VCH's other assisted-living sites if they chose to remain in that type of housing.

VCH funds 800 assisted-living beds in its region and is trying to line up additional suites at existing contract sites, VCH spokesman Gavin Wilson said in an e-mail.

Moving costs will be covered by VCH and Terraces on 7th.

Assisted living is housing that includes some health services and is designed for seniors or people with disabilities who are relatively independent but need help with meals and personal care.

Monthly fees are based on 70 per cent of after-tax income.

Ms. Chang said the now-subsidized suites would become private-pay units. She declined to disclose the difference in rates.

"Terraces on 7th made a business decision to exercise its right to end the agreement with Vancouver Coastal Health," Ms. Chang said in an e-mail, adding that annual funding from VCH has not kept up with the inflationary pressures faced by the site.

NDP health critic Judy Darcy said the change underscores the need for affordable seniors' housing. "It's a business decision – and to me that says these seniors are being 'renovicted' in favour of clients who can pay a lot more, in order to boost a company's profits," Ms. Darcy said. The term "renovictions" describes landlords legally evicting tenants to do renovations and then renting the unit at higher rates.

As of March, 2016, there were 4,408 subsidized, registered assisted-living units in B.C., according to the B.C. Seniors Advocate's Monitoring Seniors' Services 2016 report. (Registered units are regulated under provincial legislation.) There were 3,350 private, registered assisted-living units at the same date. While the number of subsidized assisted-living units has remained relatively flat over time, the number of such private units has increased by 29 per cent since 2012, the report said.

The changes at Terraces on 7th reflect several factors, including soaring real estate values that have allowed some people to sell their homes for a windfall and pay more for private assisted living, says Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

"I am worried about the people who don't have the house, who don't have the money," she said. "What I'm worried about is that we are decreasing the stock of subsidized assisted living – when we should be increasing it."