ZOOMER Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Mug­geridge

IT’S NOT UN­USUAL for neigh­bours to or­ga­nize and block a de­vel­op­ment from mov­ing into the com­mu­nity. While lam­en­ta­ble, it’s also un­der­stand­able; af­ter all, even the most com­mu­nity-minded peo­ple don’t want a methadone clinic, a half­way house for sex of­fend­ers or re­cy­cling plant nearby. Any­where else, yes – but not in my back yard!

But when the project that causes the neigh­bour­hood to get up in arms is a newly ren­o­vated house with four quiet se­niors liv­ing to­gether, then there’s clearly some­thing wrong.

Or “It’s a clear case of ageism,” sug­gests Gwen Ka­vanagh, chair of CARP’s Bar­rie Chap­ter.

Neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes or dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple be­cause of their age is what Ka­vanagh and lo­cal real­tor Shel­ley Ray­mond say they’ve con­tin­u­ally run into as they’ve tried to in­tro­duce se­nior co-hous­ing into Bar­rie, a once-ru­ral com­mu­nity that has seen huge pop­u­la­tion growth as it has be­come a bed­room com­mu­nity to Toronto, one-hour’s drive south.

The co-hous­ing con­cept is a sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive model that’s slowly gain­ing trac­tion. The idea is to find an in­vestor to buy an ex­ist­ing house, ren­o­vate it for adap­tive liv­ing and then sell it to a group of se­niors (four seems to be a num­ber that works) who would re­side in it as joint ten­ants in com­mon. Not only would the cost of the home be split four ways – al­low­ing the ten­ants to live in a mil­lion-dol­lar home for a frac­tion of the cost – but so would the ex­penses: main­te­nance, prop­erty tax, util­i­ties, gro­ceries, etc.

Us­ing an up­dated form of an old eco­nomic adage – four can live as cheaply as one – co-hous­ing is a timely so­lu­tion to the high cost of liv­ing for se­niors. A nice home in a quiet com­mu­nity, oc­cu­pants would get a bed­room and bath­room and share liv­ing, din­ing and recre­ation spa­ces. While in­de­pen­dence and pri­vacy is en­sured, the shared as­pect of this model fos­ters feel­ings of safety and com­pan­ion­ship.

“It’s just like a fam­ily liv­ing to­gether,” says the feisty Ray­mond, who, as pres­i­dent of Solterra Co-Hous­ing set up a highly suc­cess­ful project in nearby Brace­bridge, Ont., for her ail­ing fa­ther. “The only dif­fer­ence is that they’re not re­lated.”

Ray­mond’s co-hous­ing model has met chal­lenges all along the way, pri­mar­ily from Brace­bridge town coun­cil, which tried to reg­u­late it. Af­ter an eight-year bat­tle, she de­feated

City Hall’s ob­jec­tions, her vic­tory cen­tring on a 1979 fed­eral law that stip­u­lates peo­ple are free to choose whom they share a house with, re­gard­less of their race, colour, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion – or age.

En­cour­aged by this vic­tory, Ka­vanagh and Ray­mond at­tempted to bring the idea to Bar­rie. Af­ter sev­eral false starts, they found a lo­cal in­vestor who was will­ing to buy an ex­ist­ing house in an up­scale, closeknit com­mu­nity. The sale was fi­nal­ized late last year, and all that was needed were ren­o­va­tions to be com­pleted be­fore the four units would be put on mar­ket in the new year.

But just as ren­o­va­tions were set to get un­der­way, all hell broke loose. Area neigh­bours caught wind of the project and united to fight it. “None of them wanted a ‘se­niors board­ing house’ in their neigh­bour­hood,” says Ray­mond. Show­ing up to a town-hall meet­ing ready for war, the neigh­bours vo­cif­er­ously com­plained about de­clin­ing prop­erty val­ues and is­sues of safety that they felt the co­hous­ing unit would bring to bear.

“They said that the se­niors would not look af­ter their prop­erty, that the home’s res­i­dents would be con­stantly chang­ing, that they’d run over chil­dren with their cars and that there would al­ways be am­bu­lances tak­ing them to hos­pi­tal,” says Ray­mond. “One per­son ob­jected be­cause she didn’t want ‘peo­ple in di­a­pers’ liv­ing on my street.”

“We knew we were go­ing to get some flack, but this was de­grad­ing and in­sult­ing,” says Ka­vanagh of this un­fair and dam­ag­ing litany of stereo­types that is en­cap­su­lated in th­ese at­ti­tudes. “Four se­niors were go­ing to de­stroy the neigh­bour­hood. I have never seen ageism like this.”

Two days later, the an­gry res­i­dents then sent a del­e­ga­tion to City Hall in an ef­fort to quash the de­vel­op­ment. Their ef­forts were even­tu­ally re­buffed, with coun­cil say­ing they can’t dic­tate who lives in a house. And the mayor, Jeff Lehman, even apol­o­gized to Ka­vanagh for the rowdy re­cep­tion at the town­hall meet­ing, say­ing he’d never seen any­thing like that be­fore.

Un­fazed by the an­gry re­ac­tion, Ray­mond feels that her co­hous­ing vic­to­ries in Brace­bridge and Bar­rie “will open doors” to fu­ture sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ments across Canada. “Af­ford­able rental hous­ing is scarce. Se­niors are des­per­ate for so­lu­tions,” she says.

And both she and Ka­vanagh feel the neg­a­tive re­cep­tion she’s re­ceived from area res­i­dents comes from a lack of un­der­stand­ing. There was a time when res­i­dents banded to­gether to block cer­tain eth­nic groups from mov­ing into the neigh­bour­hood. Now, it seems, older peo­ple are go­ing to have to over­come the same prej­u­dices.

But Ka­vanagh is con­fi­dent that once they see the de­vel­op­ment in op­er­a­tion, all ob­jec­tions will melt away. “They’re go­ing to re­al­ize they’re liv­ing by four quiet se­niors who will take care of their prop­erty and go to bed early,” she says. “Co­hous­ing not only saves the govern­ment money by keep­ing peo­ple out of long-term care but it will also be good for the com­mu­nity.”

Be­cause tra­di­tional mod­els of se­niors hous­ing just aren’t cut­ting it, CARP sup­ports a Canada-wide roll­out of in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions like the Bar­rie chap­ter’s [co­hous­ing] pro­posal. Ide­ally, Gwen Ka­vanagh, chair of CARP Bar­rie, would love to see all provinces al­lo­cate enough money to solve se­niors’ hous­ing needs. But be­cause that isn’t likely to hap­pen any­time soon, Ka­vanagh has made an in­ter­est­ing pro­posal to the On­tario govern­ment. The govern­ment would pro­vide a five-year in­ter­est-free loan to build 100 co-hous­ing units as well as han­dling ren­o­va­tion and main­te­nance costs. When com­pleted, the units would go up for sale, and the monies paid back to the province to cover the loans. Ev­ery­body wins. —PM

Gwen Ka­vanagh Shel­ley Ray­mond

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