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Community Organizations Team Up With Ryerson University for Pilot Project on Affordable Housing For Seniors

KAWARTHA LAKES – With a growing need for affordable housing for older adults that offers quality of life, local community organizations have teamed up with Ryerson University to research a new housing model for seniors.

As a result, Madelaine Currelly the CEO of Community Training and Development Centre, 681 Monaghan Rd, Peterborough, proposed a research project to the Solution Lab process within Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, to create a purpose driven and affordable solution model that provides opportunities for seniors to continue to offer their skills and abilities to their community within the housing itself.

“It became apparent that housing was a serious issue for older adults,” said Currelly. “Not only affordability but what happens inside housing, concerns over community involvement for seniors is an issue, they like to be connected and more important they want to be able to continue to contribute their knowledge, their skills and their abilities to their community.”

The research project started approximately one year ago and focuses on the communities of Peterborough/Kawartha and Northumberland. The CDTC partnered with the provider of the project, CMHC but also partnered with Ryerson University as their consultant and then the project began to evolve.

The following community groups also supported the solution lab proposal; The Mount in Peterborough, Habitat for Humanity Northumberland, Habitat for Humanity Peterborough, Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre, Peterborough, City of Peterborough Social Services, Northumberland County Settlement Services, City of Peterborough -Housing, Community Care Peterborough, Western University Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research Unit and County of Northumberland -Housing Services.

For Currelly, while she is one part of the research team, she has big dreams for this project and where it will lead and what it can become.

“The main goal is to really look at the concept of purpose driven housing and what that entails and what we want to see inside seniors housing to allow them to be socially active, intellectually and cognitively active and to share their knowledge and skills with the community,” she said.

The project consists of five phases and the team is currently in phase three. And while workshops were planned for seniors to participate in and contribute information about their lives, their needs and their desires for their lives and where they live, the pandemic changed those plans and alternately, approximately 120 workbooks were distributed to seniors through various organizations. The workbooks included various, basic questions regarding where they currently live, how they live and what aspects would interest them, should this model come into reality.

During phase three, experts will be analyzing the results from the workbook. In phase four, the team of experts will actually reach out to specific organizations locally to inquire how they feel about the results and to discover how they can ensure that they implement and design something specific to the needs expressed in these workbooks.

“The purpose was not just to look at housing but to compare needs in urban and rural settings because as you know they’re uniquely distinct, so we chose Peterborough as our urban location and Northumberland as a rural location,” said Currelly.

After phase four, the road map will develop in phase five; the team will dig deep to look at design models and the steps needed to get to those design models. According to Currelly, the designs will be specific to their findings, specific to Peterborough and Northumberland.

“The intention is not to say that this is only for Peterborough or Northumberland, the models will be useful no matter where,” she said.  “I am open to more ideas than mine, I want to make sure people living in the housing have a reason or purpose to their daily life, to feel involved and contributing on a continuous basis as they age.”

Currelly has high hopes that this model will offer various spaces within the building that enable residents to use their skills, learn new ones and contribute to the community.

Various ideas include rooms for tutors to teach newcomers the English language, a wood working shop where they could build furniture that would be needed by community groups, a community kitchen where they can support meals for homeless people and possible classrooms for various programs.

“I am throwing out ideas, there are way more ideas that I haven’t thought of yet,” she said. “I want people to get up in the morning and say today, my job is…our brains need to be constantly stimulated and the best way is to work and give back to the community. If the community will thrive, we will thrive. Everybody has different skills and abilities to share.”

According to Jayne Culbert, Age-Friendly Coordinator for the City of Peterborough, over 22 per cent of Peterborough residents are 65 years and older. In 2040 it is projected that number will rise to almost 30 per cent of the city’s population, she said.

“The cost of housing is rising much higher than their income,” Culbert explained. “Rent prices have increased by 22 per cent from 2005 to 2015 while income in that period has only increased by less than 2 per cent.”

According to Culbert, even though bachelor apartments are the most affordable type of apartment, there are less than one per cent of those in Peterborough and 10 per cent are one-bedroom. Therefore there is high competition for affordable, rental units.

Housing Access Peterborough provides affordable housing options but those in need of a rent-geared-to-income unit can be facing 11 years on a wait list. In 2018, one-third of the applicants on the wait list were seniors, she said.

“As seniors are living longer and prefer to stay in their current home, turnover in affordable housing is extremely low,” she said. “Therefore the need for affordable housing continues to grow.”

According to the City of Peterborough’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan released in 2019, to meet all housing needs in the City and County of Peterborough, an additional 2,680 affordable rental housing, 580 rent geared to income (RGI) units and 796 affordable ownership options are needed.

And while the need for more affordable older adult housing in Peterborough is vast, the problem is a reality in many communities including Kawartha Lakes.

According to Hope Lee, Manager, Housing Services and CEO, KLH Housing Corp., Human Services Department for the City of Kawartha Lakes, the city is responsible for maintaining a centralized waiting list for certain financially assisted units.

While the City doesn’t directly own these units they have some role or partnership with the housing providers and landlords that own and operate the units, she said.

Lee said the centralized waiting list tracks households by three categories, including Seniors, 60 and older, families, single or two parents with children, and singles or couples, between 16 to 60 years old.

And the number of households on that waiting list as of September 15, 2020 is quite overwhelming.

Seniors take up 33 per cent of the waiting list with 688 households, families sit at 25 per cent of the waiting list, which amounts to 528 households and single individuals, or couples hold 42 per cent with 870 households waiting.

“There is very limited purpose built affordable housing targeted for older adults in Kawartha Lakes.  We know from talking to seniors, many appreciate options where everyone in their building is within their age range,” said Lee. “It is important that as new affordable housing developments are planned that we are considering buildings for this population specifically, realizing that 33 per cent of our waiting list are seniors.”

And while this research project has been done with a focus on Peterborough and Northumberland, Currelly is hopeful that this plan will reach other countries and eventually, the hope is that, once the model is complete, various people and organizations interested in innovative housing solutions will want to implement this housing option into various communities.

“Somebody will pick this up and say this is super cool and it could be a model that other countries could use, we are not the only country with a massive aging demographic, all of North America is aging massively,” she said. “That’s a lot of people to house. What happens when people can’t stay in their homes, we only have two and a half solutions.”

Currelly noted that long term care for those who are really medically fragile, retirement homes for people not medically fragile but need help in feeling secure and the home care system are currently the only options for seniors.

“Maybe it’s time to look at other approaches so we have many alternatives for people as they age,” she said. “We are going to be absolutely inundated with old people.”

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Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker
Jennifer decided to study journalism after having a life long passion for writing. She began her career as a reporter for the Uxbridge Times Journal and moved on to freelance work for various publications after her and her husband welcomed their daughters. She has been published in various Durham Region newspapers, the Durham Parent Magazine as well as Equine Wellness. Jennifer continues to follow her dreams as a wife, mother and journalist and is so excited to join the team at Kawartha411.

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