Apartments will be adaptable for seniors

Chilliwack’s housing stock cannot be described as “age-friendly” noted a city staff member at the June 21 council meeting.

But that may be about to change.

Chilliwack’s housing stock cannot be described as “age-friendly” noted a city staff member at the June 21 council meeting.

But that may be about to change.

Fifty per cent of all apartments built after Jan. 1, 2012 will have to conform to “adaptable standards” contained in the B.C. Building Code, following a council vote at the last meeting for staff to draft such a bylaw.

“What it does is plans for seniors to age in place,” said Kurt Houlden, director of city planning, by way of introduction.

The new bylaw would impact builders of new apartments at the construction stage.

Adaptable standards include building wider doorways and hallways in apartments to accommodate wheelchairs, as well as reinforced walls for grab bars to be installed washrooms. It’s also making sure there’s adequate room to turn around in a washroom with a walker or wheelchair, and installing doors and faucets that open and close easily.

These standards are contained within the B.C. building code but municipalities can opt into them by varying degrees.

After two rounds of quality of life surveys conducted in Chilliwack in recent years, it became clear it was of prime importance for aging citizens to be able to stay “independent” and in their homes for as long as possible, said Coun. Pat Clark, chair of a housing sub-committee looking at the issue.

“We wanted to make a start with this and build up the stock,” she said, adding that half of the apartment stock in Chilliwack is more than 30 years old.

The new bylaw affecting apartments a “great compromise” for the city, said Coun. Sue Attrill. “It’s also a really responsible way to address an issue.”

Clark said the sub-committee members sought ideas that were both practical and doable, and this one emerged from the options. They knew it was possible, since other municipalities had implemented similar bylaws.

“I hope that builders will see that these building criteria will be beneficial to the people who will be looking to rent from them,” she said. “These are characteristics that are good for everyone.”

The standards bylaw is clear recognition by council that steps will need to be taken to care for aging baby boomers in the community, said Coun. Ken Huttema.

“I can appreciate the foresight needed to implement this,” he said.