Castor’s Paintearth Lodge is seeing a vacancy rate double what their budget can currently handle. Ten rooms are currently vacant, and according to Manager of Castor and District Housing Manager Marcy Renschler, a trend of high vacancies is a trend being seen across the province in Rural areas. Kevin J Sabo photo.

Castor’s Paintearth Lodge one of many across province seeing high vacancy rate.

To avoid layoffs for the time being, management and staff have agreed to a rollback of staff hours

By Kevin J Sabo

For the Advance.

Castor’s Paintearth Lodge is facing a highly significant vacancy rate.

With budgeting plans in place allowing the facility to operate with up to five vacancies, the 10 vacancies currently in the lodge are causing concern for management. The facility, along with many others like it around the province are funded by a mix of provincial government and municipal requisition funds based on resident numbers. With 10 rooms vacant as of the beginning of March, management is starting to feel the strain.

“Layoffs, we don’t want to see, “said Manager Marcy Renschler. “We still need staff for the people we do have.”

To avoid layoffs for the time being, management and staff have agreed to a rollback of staff hours for one shift a week, while still maintaining the required two people on at all times. Rolling back one shift a week allows the cost to be spread across all staff positions, however Renschler said that in addition to the rollbacks she is exploring other human resources type options if they can’t get more residents into the facility.

Paintearth Lodge is not in a unique position. Renschler keeps in contact with the other seniors’ lodges in the region, and they are all saying the same thing, vacancies are high in the rural areas. There is no one clear cause for the vacancies, but more a matter of multiple factors.

“Lots of times they come to us too late,” said Renschler.” Homecare is keeping people in their homes longer. They will stay here for a month or two then go to a health facility, because we don’t offer the health part.”

Renschler factors in the economy as part of the problem as well. With stagnant house sales in the region, many seniors relying on the proceeds of their home sale to transition into the lodge are unable to do so. There also seems to be a growing trend of parents helping their adult children financially due to economic conditions. In a 2017 study released by Pew Research Centre, it found that 32 per cent of adults aged 18 to 34 were still living with a parent, a number that hasn’t been this high since the 1940’s. These numbers further complicate a senior’s retirement finances.

Local realtor Basic Nichols confirmed that home sales have been “terrible.”

“I sold a couple of homes before Christmas, but only a couple of smaller properties since,” said Nichols.

Renschler has been hard at work on getting people into the lodge. In Feb. she ran ads saying that if someone were to move into the lodge on a three month contract, they would get a month free. In addition, she has told residents that if they can get someone to move in, she will give them an incentive or discount on their rent.

Renschler is also looking beyond county borders. With lodges in the major centres such as Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer, she has sent ads to centres in those regions saying that the rural areas have room.

There are no clear ways forward for the rural lodges, but the system does need to be looked at before these homes, and jobs attached, are lost from the rural communities across the province.

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