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But what can we do about this!!!

It’s not just the criminal and chronic housing shortage that makes me crazy, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s the loss of the sense of character in our neighbourhoods.

One of the more demoralizing aspects of the prospect of development in our neighbourhood is the way that older houses are being demolished to make room for new, larger (and usually uglier) ones.  Sometimes these larger buildings take the form of multi-family dwellings, but often they are single-family homes, just on a much grander scale.

But whether your current older home ends up charming your street or ending up in a landfill all depends on the neighbourhood you live in.  And the age of your home.  If your house is the wrong age — or in the wrong area — it could be targeted for demolition and replacement. As this story in the Vancouver Courier explains,

Over in Kitsilano, the zoning laws are different. There, if you want to tear down a house built before 1940, you can build a new home only if it’s smaller in size. In exchange for the restriction, you’re allowed to create suites and infill housing.

That sounds very nice.  Secondary suites and laneway homes increase the housing stock and — this is where I leap in — don’t change the character of the neighbourhood.  And the cut-off date of 1940 is too early, in my opinion.  Lots of east-side developments were put in after the war.  The entire area between Rupert St. and Boundary Road south of Grandview to 22nd was built for the returning soldiers and their families (hint to the heritage, Anzio, Normandy, and Dieppe Drives).  At one time you could see street after street of small bungalows.

These houses are the perfect size for today’s smaller families!  With a full basement (also handy to hold a secondary suite for empty-nesters. And they respond well to renovation.

But that area is now chock-a-block with 3 storey New Vancouver Specials, with the occasional older bungalow sitting like a wren in a cuckoos nest.

oldnew

Fellow boomers and millennials know that’s OUR heritage that is being thrown away when these homes are destroyed.

But what can we do?

Luckily, we can go directly to Stop the Demolitions and fill out a handy-dandy form that will get our message directly to the politicians.

Go ahead, do it!  I’ll wait here.

Now, didn’t that make you feel better?  Also attend any town halls on the subject.  Let your voice be heard!

 

 

Have I caught the NIMBYs*?

All through the East Vancouver neighbourhoods along Broadway the signs have been going up.  Realtor “For Sale” signs set up in the front lawns of consecutive houses.  Four or five homes for sale, all by the same realtor, all at the same time.

It doesn’t take Jessica Fletcher to figure this out.  Densification has been taking place in these areas through laneway homes and secondary suites, but now developers are assembling larger building lots, buying up the single-family homes that sit there, and are planning on installing multi family buildings there.

As we watched the signs proliferate we worried about what form these new buildings would take.  A row of stylish townhomes would be fine.  A nice two-or-three-storey apartment is OK.  But what if they want to build something bigger?  Our laneway backs onto the alley that runs behind some of those homes for sale.  What kind of chimera would appear?

Then the “Sold” signs went up on a section between Lakewood and Nanaimo.  And in a matter of days a sign appeared stating that they want to build a SIX storey apartment building along there.

Six storeys.  That’s a lot of storeys. Something that high would block a lot of our sunlight.  I was prepared to lose our view, but to live in a behemoth’s shadow would be too awful to contemplate.

It also might be wishful thinking.  There’s been no application made so far, at least none that show up on the City of Vancouver’s Development Application Information Web Page.  But we will keep our eye on what is happening just 10 blocks down the road from us.

Now comes the twinge of conscience.  I am completely comfortable with the idea of densification.  I know that the supply of homes (whatever form they take) in no way comes close to the demand in this city.  I want more people to be able to live here.  But I don’t want the entire character of our neighbourhood to be destroyed.  I have lived in a neighbourhood that was a mixture of heritage homes and low-profile condo buildings and it was a pleasant sort of place.

What alternatives do we have?

* Not In My Back Yard

A healthier choice for seniors (and everyone)

How have other countries faced rising drug costs?  And why do Canadians get the splintery tongue depressor when it comes to prescriptions?

pills

First of all, because we do not have universal prescription coverage, we pay too damn much for the drugs we are getting.  According to this CBC Report, drug company representatives influence doctors’ choices in prescribing:

The research conducted for the fifth estate by health benefits company Express Scripts Canada shows employer-funded private insurance plans in Canada wasted more than $3 billion per year between 2011 and 2015 by covering the cost of expensive drugs that have cheaper options, as well as paying for unnecessary dispensing fees.

Adding to that is the fact that other countries tell the drug companies how much they will spend on drugs.  In this report we learn

An analysis by the fifth estate shows that Canadians, for example, pay far more than people in New Zealand for drugs produced by the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company.

For every dollar Canadians spend on seven popular drugs sold by Apotex in both countries, Kiwis spend just 11.5 cents.

And overall, according to several studies, Canadians pay the second-highest drug prices in the world, after only people living in the United States.

So add those two problems — higher drug costs and lack of universal coverage — and you have one big problem.  Many people do not fill or take their prescribed drugs.  And THAT costs us money, too.

A study at the University of British Columbia showed that

In an analysis of survey responses from all 11 countries, the researchers found that Canada had the second-highest prevalence of skipped prescriptions due to cost, at 8.3 per cent. Access was worse only in the United States, where 16.8 per cent of respondents reported such financial barriers to filling prescriptions. In contrast, fewer than four per cent of the populations in most other comparable countries reported skipping prescriptions due to cost.

And the result of that barrier to filling prescriptions?

“When patients stop filling their prescriptions, their conditions get worse and they often end up in hospital requiring more care which in the long run costs us more money,” said Steve Morgan, senior author of the study and professor in UBC’s school of population and public health.

It’s time for federally-funded prescription coverage.

Keeping healthy at a price — that seniors can’t pay

Looking forward to my retirement (133 days but who’s counting?) isn’t all sunshine, roses, and fluffy puppies.   I know I will have to pay a price for continued health care.

medical devices

It’s more important than ever that we stay in tippy-top health.  I have promised myself to increase my exercise regime and to eat right to bring down my slightly elevated cholesterol numbers.  And it seems unfair that now, as I retire,  I am responsible for paying out more money just to stay in good health.

Here in BC we have to pay our own MSP rates (we’re the only province where the provincial government doesn’t cover that cost) and right now my employer picks up that tab.  After retirement that will be $150 a month for the spouse and myself. That’s the highest amount on a sliding scale that tops out at a mere $42,000 net income per year.

Plus right now my employer generously provides me with a medical plan to cover my prescription drugs, dental care, and other extended benefits (thanks, CUPE 2950!).

But as of July 1, 2017, I will have to pay for those.  BC has a system called Fair Pharmacare, a means tested subsidy based on your income that has a hefty deductible based on your income — from two years previously.  For us that could be $1200 a year. Yikes! And it only covers 70% of drug costs up to a maximum, after which we’d get 100% coverage.

You can spread your deductible over a payment plan, but for someone on a fixed income there could be a struggle to afford needed medication. Plus basing the payments on our income from two years previously means that it will be two years before my significantly lower retirement income is reflected in our deductible.

If we lived in Ontario, as a senior my drug costs would be covered with a deductible of $100 A YEAR!

There are private insurance plans which we will certainly consider.  I’ll have to do some very tedious spreadsheet work to see which plan will work out best for us.  As with all insurance, you should buy before you need it.

But it’s not like that in other countries.  Canada is the only country enjoying universal health care that does not have universal prescription  coverage.  And that costs us money.  It seems counter-intuitive that paying for everyone’s prescription could save the health-care system money, but it’s true.

More on that tomorrow.

 

 

The little old lady who lives

I had a photo taken recently, just a head-and-shoulders, taken in natural light.  A little something to update my LinkedIn page.  And, looking at it, I realized something…I look my age.

This is not a terrible thing, of course, there is nothing wrong with looking your age.  It’s just that without deluding myself, my face could cheat a little.  I used to hear it all the time, “You look too young to….be a grandmother, have cataracts, remember the 60s.” They say that mirrors don’t lie, but mine does, its kind light filling in all the little crinkles and wrinkles and throwing a camouflaging shadow beneath my softening jawline.  But a photograph is proof.  I am looking my age. I am getting old, not just older.

There’s more reminders.  A news report describes someone younger than me as “elderly”.  A visit to my employer’s Pension Fair reminds me that my retirement age, once soooooo far away, is approaching.  Rapidly.  I stopped colouring my hair last year, wondering what my “natural” colour would be.  It’s grey, a kind of pewter rather than silver, but grey it certainly is.  There’s a shortness of breath when I attempt to climb a long flight of stairs, a reminder of the pneumonia I had in the spring that does not go away.  I am too tired after a full day’s work and two hour-long commutes to go to the gym, or a concert, or the movies.

It seems to me that youth is inherited at birth.  And you ease into middle age; the male gaze slides over and around you rather than lingering, people seem more willing to help you out, and you realize well, that’s over.  But old age seems like a decision.  You accept your grey hair, you opt to take the escalator more often, you make plans to retire.

And that’s the rub.  I have been working for over 40 years.  When I had small children I worked for them.  Other than the child-bearing years I have held paying jobs, and all of that comes with its own regimen.  Your days are nicely laid out for you, even your weekends are defined by the fact that you are not working for two days, it’s your chance to catch up on everything you didn’t have time for during the work week.

But just thinking about retirement…day after day with no one telling me what to do, no duties arranged in a never-ending list.  It’s disconcerting.  And even the flexibility we have now to retire at age 55 or 60 or 65 or 67 and-a-half or 70 is stressful to think about.

I don’t have any big plans for retirement.  We want to travel, but there are no solid plans, just a general wish to do so.  I haven’t put off writing a book, or getting a degree, or taking up flamenco dancing, waiting for my retirement to get it done.  My children and grandchildren need and want my help, but that’s not a full-time gig, they are quite independent and want to stay that way.

So I have decided to approach old age the same way I would any new challenge — by learning all I can about it.  The more I learn the less intimidating it will be.  And I’ll be ready to face it. With this face:

X_44A1541

Lofty Living

http://www.houzz.com/houzzTvWidget/62333729/4815380783001

Back in the 20th century, when DH and I decided to cohabit, we went looking for a condo to buy.  This was in the halcyon days when two people making not much money could afford to buy in this city.  **sigh** Nostalgia.

We looked at a lot of places that looked exactly the same, and at one loft.  It was in a new build, in a neighbourhood of single family homes, so it wasn’t the “Downtown/Gastown/Yaletown” experience you would expect with loft living, and it never made the top ten of our favourites. But it also had one glaring problem.  It was basically one large room with a bathroom.  You can put that loft bedroom anywhere you want, but it’s still in the same room as the living room.

DH fell in love with the idea, and said that if he was NOT moving in with someone, he would buy it in a snap.  A spirited discussion ensued.

But one couple has solved the “one big room” problem (and in a lot less space than we were offered).  Once again, design trumps size. Check out the linked video from Houzz to see how clever they’ve been.

They’ve placed the office where the night-owl works directly below the loft bed.  With his headphones on he can work into wee hours without disturbing her sleep.  That work space also changes into a guest room AND a dining area.

Plus they’ve worked in a custom library ladder (another of DH’s favourite things).

 

Reduce, reuse, recycle — a house

In our neighbourhood – as in yours I’m sure – the old makes way for the new.  And it’s disappointing at best and heart-breaking at its worst to see fine old homes ripped down for cookie-cutter-mini mansions (in our neighbourhood) or mega-mansions (in richer neighbourhoods).  We had a moment’s worry when the homes on either side of our two-house compound were sold, but luck was with us, the new owners have renovated a bit and moved into the original structures.

Tearing down old houses creates waste and lots of it.  Each demolished home sends 50 tonnes of material to the landfill.  Often homes are ripped down with no thought of recycling the building materials.

But not in Gimli.  Gimli, Manitoba.  According to this story in the Interlake Enterprise newspaper, clever Melanie Casselman is recycling homes rescued from nearby Winnipeg and putting them on lots in Gimli.

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

 

It’s a great idea, and not just because it saves money for the developers (because they don’t have to pay for demolishing) and not just because it puts up instant homes in a growing community.  It’s a great idea because it perfectly embraces the idea that we don’t just throw things out.  We try to save as much as we can.

Well done, Melanie Casselman!  Bravo Gimli!

Full disclosure, Melanie Casselman is a distant cousin of my son-in-law.  Further disclosure, I went to college with a girl from Gimli, a natural Icelandic blond by name of Solvason.

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