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Age Concern: seniors need private sector

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Growing problem: about 200 seniors turned out for the Age Concern Forum at the Evangelical Church Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Housing the island’s burgeoning senior population, who face increasing financial pressures, will require the private sector to pitch in, according to Age Concern.

Assisted-living communities were suggested as a solution during yesterday’s gathering of the charity membership.

“We have a massive problem in front of us as a country,” realtor Michael DeFontes told an audience of about 200 seniors, as he took the stage with John Barritt, of the Bermuda Housing Trust, and Desiree O’Connor from the Bermuda Housing Corporation.

Costs greatly outweigh pensions, deputy chairman Charles Jeffers noted, saying many elderly residents faced “a paradox of being asset rich and cash poor”.

Concerned at covering costs such as medication and food, many were turning to the sale of their property, looking to more modest accommodation as options. Reverse mortgages were unlikely to catch on, Mr DeFontes said, as local banks are reluctant to become “landowners or landlords”.

“A lot of seniors have nothing left over. The only thing they have is their property,” he said.

“We need to consider selling and moving into a facility — if we had enough to house them.”

The Government and private sector would need to collaborate on developing “any creative thing that can be done to help seniors with their cash flow”, he said, pointing to the highly limited property sizes available in Bermuda.

Shared-living options are not always palatable, Mr Barritt said, but assisted living could prove workable: communities where services come to the residents.

The forum heard repeatedly that seniors overwhelmingly wanted to keep their independence, preferring to live on their own as much as possible, with Mr Barritt emphasising that the growing elderly population translated into greater electoral power.

“There’s going to have to be some strong advocacy to get it going in the right direction.”

According to Ms O’Connor, BHC does not receive large numbers of applications from seniors, preferring to steer requests to the BHT. Roughly half of current tenants are over 50, with applicants today averaging the age of 40 to 45. Seniors seek studio apartments and one-bed units, driven by affordability, she said — but the corporation is often challenged by their mobility issues.

“No one wants to live in a rooming house facility,” Ms O’Connor added. “But if we can do some form of shared accommodation, even a smaller unit for two people who share housekeeping responsibilities, that’s something we could do with the properties we currently have.”

Quizzed by the audience on the island’s substantial numbers of derelict properties, the forum heard from Major Barrett Dill, of the BHC, that the possible acquisition of such lands had stalled in the Attorney-General’s chambers, as the majority were caught up in family disputes.

“It’s time for the BHC and local real estate agents to work together,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the courage to do it.”

About 200 seniors turned out for the Age Concern Forum at the Evangelical Church Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
About 200 seniors turn out to the Age Concern Forum at the Evangelical Church Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
<p>Age Concern cuts</p>

Age Concern, the senior’s advocacy charity, is running a tighter ship in the face of tough economic times.

Unveiling the 2016 annual report, executive director Claudette Fleming said staff had taken a 20 per cent cut in pay.

The charity fields about 1,600 contacts a year, mainly to do with financial assistance.

For the year ending April 1, 2016, Age Concern gave financial support to 98 seniors, through assistance with food, healthcare and electricity costs. Support with electric bills remains the highest hardship support that the charity provides.