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Addressing the challenges of Aging in Place – three Ontario co-ops build new accessible homes

Published April 27, 2023

Faced with a need for accessible homes so that older members can stay in their communities, three Ontario housing co-ops have built new homes.

These co-ops offer lessons for other co-ops wanting to accommodate “empty nesters” and aging members. The projects they undertook are different, but each co-op successfully built new smaller units. All three co-ops designed their new homes for Aging in Place and accessibility.

Canadian housing co-ops were originally built as family housing with three-, four- and even five-bedroom homes. Today, many are finding it difficult to meet members’ housing needs, especially among empty nesters who want to remain in their communities. Older members may also confront mobility challenges and other consequences of aging.

Many co-ops across Canada are currently considering whether it is possible to add new or retrofitted units. Fortunately, CHF Canada and other building professionals offer a range of resources to help.

Clairvue Housing Co-op, 8 new co-op homes 

Inspired by CHF Canada’s 2018 Annual Meeting in Victoria, Chatham’s Clairvue Housing Co-operative decided to use a vacant corner of its 60-unit property to build eight new stacked townhouses. Responding in 2018 to a municipal Request for Proposals, a new building was completed in March 2020 offering seven new one-bedroom and one two-bedroom apartments.

All of the units have accessible first floors and are pre-wired so that automatic doors can be installed, and two of the units are fully barrier free.

Clairvue’s new building was specifically designed to include smaller homes that the co-op lacked, says co-op manager Renée Kominek. CHF Canada, she says, was an important source of support and guidance.

Corktown Housing Co-op, 17 new co-op homes

In 2022, using funding from the Hamilton Community Foundation, Corktown Co-op in Hamilton bought two rundown houses next door to its 51-unit co-op apartment building. These have been demolished, and construction will begin this summer on a new 17-unit complex with 13 one-bedroom apartments and 4 townhouses.

Lynda Winter has lived at Corktown since it was built in 1989. “We have aimed for units to better suit seniors for many years. It was a real challenge to find a way to buy the buildings, but we did it!”

Plans call for 13 of  the new homes to be barrier-free. The building will include an elevator to the second-floor apartments. Among other design features, all washrooms will be wheelchair accessible; doors will use levers. Lynda Winter says that a CHF Canada webinar about accessibility and universal design (December 2022) was a key inspiration for how the new building will work.

Kingston Co-operative Homes, 38 new co-op homes

Five years ago, the City of Kingston acquired a large vacant lot next to Kingston Co-operative Homes, and approached the co-op to consider developing the property. In 2021, an eNews article reported that a key co-op goal was to create smaller, more accessible units for older members that might want to downsize, or for young couples joining the co-op.

Now under construction, the new building will be finished next spring.  Of the 38 new co-op homes, 28 will be one-bedroom apartments; the other 10 are two-bedrooms.

Co-op manager Bob Putzlocher highlights how the homes will accommodate members aging in place, or facing mobility issues: an elevator, automatic doors wide enough for wheelchairs, levered interior doors with no old-style door knobs, lowered garbage chutes, and so on. He gives a lot of credit to the expertise of the co-op’s development consultants and architectural team in achieving the co-op’s accessibility goals. Kingston Co-op Homes found grant funding for several of the technical studies that the project needed.

These three Ontario housing co-ops took different paths to meeting their need for smaller, more accessible homes. But all three found building sites on or adjacent to their existing property. All three used existing and new resources to drive their projects forward, and all three found supportive government funders so that the new buildings were possible. Each was guided by experienced development consultants and CHF Canada’s professional staff.

How CHF Canada can help

Aging in Place and accessibility are cornerstones of CHF Canada’s vision of Co-op Housing for All – a commitment by housing co-ops and sector organizations to work together toward sustainability and growth. CHF Canada’s Director, Member Services Patricia Tessier says that “CHF Canada’s programs that support modernization, redevelopment or new development have accessibility and Aging in Place in mind.” Similar support, she says, is available to British Columbia co-ops through the Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia.

For more than a decade, for example, CHF Canada has offered member co-ops a suite of Asset and Financial Planning Services. Housing co-ops normally start with an Asset Management Plan (AMP) so that they can assess their building’s repair and modernization needs, using detailed financial projections to marry revenue and expenses so that the co-op can always be kept in good condition. Today, the AMP can include an Aging in Place report prepared by qualified professionals so that a co-op can identify accessibility issues and modify its homes as part of its renewal program.

Ofelia Guanlao, CHF Canada’s Senior Program Manager, Asset Planning Services, reports that more and more co-ops are contacting CHF Canada for advice about Aging in Place and accessibility. “We have linked many member co-ops with professionals specializing in appropriate retrofits. We’ve helped co-ops apply for grants so that co-ops can get advice without using their own money.”

In 2020, CHF Canada published “Six resources on accessibility and including people with disabilities” – a set of “how to” resources with a poster series on the “do’s and don’ts” of communication materials for people with different needs, as well as a link to federal funding that can help pay for renovations to improve accessibility.

Over a year ago, CHF Canada in collaboration with regional federations launched an Aging in Place Network (AIPEN), an online network that allows members to exchange and support each other with solutions on aging issues. A December 2022 webinar “Designing for Accessibility and Inclusion in your Co-op Buildings” is available through AIPEN. This was one of CHF Canada’s best-attended webinars, with over 120 people online. Featuring two professional engineers from RIMKUS (formerly IRC), it showcases practical products and solutions for renovating existing co-op homes so that members with mobility, sight, hearing or cognitive challenges can stay in their homes.

Canada’s housing co-ops are determined to help members stay in their communities, and are looking hard for ways to make that happen. As we have seen, there are several innovative paths to modernization, renovation and new development.

If your co-op wants to provide more suitable homes for your aging members, you’ll find plenty of help on CHF Canada’s website. CHF Canada’s co-op planning and development specialists are always available by email or phone to help you with the challenges of Aging in Place and accessibility. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Your co-op can be part of a bigger, better future – Co-op Housing for All. 

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