Community after retirement
Co-housing developments let residents keep independence
When Margaret Critchlow went on sabbatical from York University in 2004 and travelled to the Victoria, B.C. area to visit her son, the anthropology professor fell in love with the location. “I couldn’t go back,” she says. So when she finally retired in 2010, Critchlow headed west and settled in Sooke. B.C.
At the time, Critchlow and a friend were going through the process of finding retirement homes for their mothers and realized that they wanted something different for themselves.
“I think this is a fairly common thing that one hears from the baby-boomer generation, is that we wanted the non-institutional alternative and it didn’t exist as we knew of at that time,” Critchlow says.
So the friends began planning Harbourside, a waterfront cohousing community based on a model founded in Denmark in the 1960s. A Danish architect and his friends dreamed up a community where homes were grouped around common indoor and outdoor spaces. A California architect named Charles Durrett brought the concept to North America, where older residents are using the model to create the sense of community one finds in a group home but retain the independence they have enjoyed for much of their adult lives.
“That was one of the key motivators for us, was recognizing the dangers of social isolation,” Critchlow says.
These communities are popping up in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The Harbourside community grew largely by word of mouth and by October 2014 all 31 units had sold out. By January 2016, residents, a mix of couples and singles, began moving in.
The residents planned the community together, hiring a project manager, construction company, engineers and other professionals, and financed the development themselves with their own investments, as well as a construction loan.
The residents own their homes, as well as a share of the common area. The community includes a 4,000- square-foot common house with a kitchen and dining space for shared meals, as well as plenty of room for activities, a dock with kayaks and a sailboat, and “more bicycles than cars,” Critchlow says.
The community does not have a minimum age requirement.
“The restriction is that you have to be committed to our vision, which is to be a community that focuses on aging well in place,” Critchlow says.
“We didn’t want to restrict it because we want to have younger people here so that as we get older and die, there are replacements.”
The current age range of residents in Harbourside is late 40s to late 80s.
The community is designed “to age with us,” Critchlow says.
For instance, the homes are wheelchair accessible and the common building has a new “care suite” to be used by family members tending to an ill or dying resident or other caregiver.
But for now, most residents are enjoying the benefits of an active community where they have the privacy of their own homes but can also benefit from easy access to social activities.
“This is the kind of place that anybody in their right mind would want to live in.”
Many would seem to agree, as Harbourside’s wait list has grown to more than 400 people. That also may be why two new cohousing developments are planned for nearby: West Wind Harbour Cohousing, also in Sooke, and Saanich Peninsula Cohousing. ‘This concept gives them power and control’ Asecond model based on the Danish concept is also popping up around Canada: co-housing (with a hyphen), in which a single home is divided up among a certain number of owners who have their own bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, but share the other common areas of the house.
Each resident owns an interest in the home, which they can sell on the open market at any time. Together, residents hire the help they need, be it someone to cook, clean, drive them to appointments, take care of laundry and groceries, or any other required care.
Shelley Raymond, president of Solterra Co-Housing Ltd., opened her company’s first co-housing home in 2009 in Bracebridge, Ont., which she acquired when her own father could no longer afford to stay in the home that he and his wife once shared.
“Often many parents are forced into making decisions because they waited too long and something has gone wrong,” Raymond says. “And now the kids have to step in and assist with solutions for living arrangements.”
Raymond’s company is expanding with homes planned for Haliburton, the Village of Rosseau and Barrie, and she sees the model growing in popularity across the country.
“The difference in a retirement home is anybody moving into the retirement home does as they are told, they eat when they are told. They don’t have menu plans. The management company controls the retirement home and it’s based on profit,” she says.
“In our case, the owners control the home with no incentive for profit.”
She describes her own father’s last three-and-a-half years in the Bracebridge home as some of his happiest.
“Control. That’s the number one thing that we all don’t want to give up,” Raymond says. “This concept gives them power and control.”