Calgary veterans hope to find financial 'breathing room' in new affordable housing

·3 min read
Calgary veteran, Dirk Lemcke, 61, is pleased to have some extra pocket money after moving into an affordable suite, where rent is 30 per cent of his income. (Colleen Underwood/CBC - image credit)
Calgary veteran, Dirk Lemcke, 61, is pleased to have some extra pocket money after moving into an affordable suite, where rent is 30 per cent of his income. (Colleen Underwood/CBC - image credit)

Silvera for Seniors is working with the Veterans Association Food Bank to provide an affordable housing option to veterans on a fixed low-income where rental rates are based on 30 per cent of gross income.

The one- and two-bedroom suites are in a recent hotel-apartment conversion in Calgary's northeast community of Horizon, called Vista Apartments. The federal and municipal governments funded the renovations in the 120-unit building. Silvera owns and operates it.

"That particular property in all of our portfolio is geared to the lowest income people and so, of course, there are many challenged with income, and veterans are often some of the lower, and here was a perfect opportunity to have suites come available and have veterans be able to move in," said Arlen Adamson, CEO with Silvera for Seniors.

Residents aged 55 and older started moving in last December. In the past few months, Silvera reached out to the Veterans Association Food Bank to see if they knew of any veterans who were looking for affordable housing.

Marie Blackburn, executive director of the Veterans Association Food Bank, said the association jumped at the opportunity, with no shortage of interested applicants.

Dave Gilson/CBC
Dave Gilson/CBC

"With this sliding scale, they're able to get out and be part of the community again," Blackburn said.

"If you're on social assistance, [rent is] $282 a month, which gives you a lot of breathing room to go grocery shopping or pay some bills or get cable TV or whatever you'd like to do."

Hard to beat

Dirk Lemcke spent eight and a half years in a combat regiment with the United States military before he became a truck driver and a painter.

The 61-year-old said he lived at the Homes for Heroes village for about two years before moving into the Vista Apartments last month.

The village is meant to be a temporary home to help homeless veterans re-enter mainstream society employed, stable and self-sufficient.

Lemcke currently receives about $1,500 from Canada Pension Plan disability, U.S. Social Security disability, and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).

Based on the 30 per cent formula, Lemcke pays $383 for rent and cable at Vista.

"How the heck do you beat that? It's a nice little place. It's clean, it's, you know, fairly quiet," Lemcke said.

"I might even be able to do something like go to a movie or something."

'Divy' and too expensive

Blackburn said there are affordable places available in Calgary for homeless people or low-income individuals, but she said they're often "divy" rooming houses or basement suites.

As a result, she said, some veterans get stuck living in places that are too expensive which leaves them struggling to take care of themselves.

"If you only have $100 a month to spare, how do you get out? How do you learn how to shop again? How do you learn how to go for coffee again if you have no money to do those things?"

So far, Blackburn said they've helped four veterans move in with two more applying.

Those who are accepted must be able to live independently and make under a certain income threshold.

Adamson said Silvera eventually plans to add services on the main floor of the building — whether that's different health care agencies or addictions counselling, depending on the residents' needs and requests — but for now they just have a property manager on site.

"Everyone deserves dignity and a place to call home and this is permanent housing for them so that helps to stabilise people in their lives and have them get on with living," said Adamson.

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