HOME­WORK

Ottawa Sun - New Homes - - HOMES -

Greg Bechard is an af­ford­able hous­ing en­tre­pre­neur and the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Elmira Devel­op­men­tal Sup­port Cor­po­ra­tion. Over the last decade, with the sup­port of his board of di­rec­tors, Greg has de­vel­oped a unique busi­ness model for af­ford­able hous­ing. The model blends stu­dent op­por­tu­ni­ties, com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment and new tech­nol­ogy. The re­sult is Field of Dreams, an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to com­mu­nity liv­ing.

Lo­cated in Elmira, On­tario, Field of Dreams of­fers sup­port­ive yet in­de­pen­dent liv­ing for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenges. Ten­ants moved into Phase 1 in 2014, Phase 2 in 2016, and more will move in when Phase 3 opens in Jan­uary 2018. Each build­ing has 4 to 5 men and women with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and 2 to 3 “Good Neigh­bours.”

The Field of Dreams’ Good Neigh­bours are suc­cess­ful schol­ar­ship ap­pli­cants from Reni­son Univer­sity Col­lege and the Masters of So­cial Work pro­gram at Wil­fred Lau­rier. Stu­dents have their tu­ition and rent cov­ered as they live in sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ship with the other ten­ants. More re­cently, Greg also started wel­com­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers as “In­ten­tional Neigh­bours” in ex­change for a sub­si­dized unit in the build­ing.

Robyn Horst be­gan as a schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ent of the Good Neigh­bours pro­gram and is now an In­ten­tional Neigh­bour. She fondly re­calls a time when her car broke down and one of the ten­ants drove her to the me­chanic.

“We’re gen­uine friends,” she says. “The ten­ants help me just as much as I help them.”

The Good Neigh­bour schol­ar­ship con­cept first came to Greg in 2009, when he was speak­ing to stu­dents in a univer­sity so­cial work class. He asked how many of them had worked at group homes, and most raised their hands.

The in­no­va­tive ap­proach has sparked in­ter-gen­er­a­tional friend­ships and al­lowed the build­ings to run en­tirely through rent rev­enues with­out ad­di­tional gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies. Av­er­age an­nual sup­port costs for each ten­ant are $7,000 a year, a frac­tion of the costs for someone with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties liv­ing in a re­gional group home. A blend of best prac­tices The suc­cess of the model is based on the abil­i­ties of each in­di­vid­ual, fam­ily and com­mu­nity sup­port, tech­nol­ogy, the Good Neigh­bours con­cept and — as a last re­sort — paid staff.

“It’s just a blend of best prac­tices,” says Greg, who based the model on 43 years of af­ford­able sup­port­ive hous­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

All of the build­ings fol­low a sim­i­lar con­fig­u­ra­tion: six 1-bed­room and one 2-bed­room units. Each unit is cus­tom­ized with tech­nol­ogy to suit the ten­ant. For ex­am­ple, a unit could have a de­vice that dis­penses med­i­ca­tion at spe­cific times of day.

Greg knows he’s cre­ated some­thing sus­tain­able, adapt­able and very re­lat­able. He’s com­mit­ted to the fu­ture ex­pan­sion of Field of Dreams and be­lieves the model can be ap­plied to af­ford­able hous­ing devel­op­ments across the coun­try.

“We have cre­ated an old­fash­ioned neigh­bour­hood,” he says. “It’s a neigh­bour­hood of sup­port, where neigh­bour looks out for neigh­bour and is­sues of safety and loneliness and iso­la­tion are ad­dressed through the re­la­tion­ships formed in the hous­ing com­mu­nity.”

This project re­ceived ini­tial fund­ing from Canada Mort­gage and Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and the On­tario Min­istry of Hous­ing through the Canada–On­tario In­vest­ment in Af­ford­able Hous­ing Agree­ment. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.let­stalk­hous­ing.ca. Fol­low us on Twit­ter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Face­book.

Greg Bechard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Elmira Devel­op­men­tal Sup­port Cor­po­ra­tion, out­side phase one of the Field of Dreams de­vel­op­ment.

Greg Bechard with Phase two Field of Dreams res­i­dents, Ryan Martin and Chris Beisel

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