Radical retirement options explored

New ideas on offer in nearby Thornhill or far-away England

This  article is published by York Region.com on May 21, 2015.  Click here to read the article.

You may hope you’ll drop dead on a golf course or drift off in your sleep before you’ll need institutional care, but author and sociologist Lyndsay Green says, don’t count on it.

Instead, the sociologist and author of The Perfect Home for a Long Life suggests following the advice of elders who are enjoying their so-called Golden Years. They say you will want a home that can accommodate an aging mind and body, in a neighbourhood that offers lots of stimulation, easy access to services in a community of caring people.

In York Region, and worldwide, seniors and soon-to-be seniors are designing unique new approaches that offer hope for the future. Here’s a sampling:

European communities, maybe because they are used to living in close proximity, have a number of innovative ideas such as Hogewey, a gated village for residents with dementia that allows them to live in their own safe inner world; visit hogeweyk.dementiavillage.com/en

In the Netherlands, Humanitas is a social service organization that allows university students to share accommodation, rent-free. In exchange, they spend at least 30 hours a month with some of the 160 elderly who live there, preparing meals, shopping and generally hanging out.

In Singapore, a vertical urban farm doubles as a retirement home. It’s a place where elderly residents grow their own vegetables through vertical aquaponic farming and rooftop soil plantings. The idea aims to tackle two pressing needs — a stable food supply and healthy living for growing senior population. The Home Farm empowers residents with skills to cultivate their own food and provide them with an income source and engaged in meaningful activity.

Closer to home, Abbeyfield Caledon House is modeled on an initiative launched more than 50 years ago in the U.K to provide affordable homes in a family-sized household within the local community.

The not-for-profit residence in Caledon, home to 12 residents, has a volunteer board of directors. Residents enjoy their own private bedsitting room and bath while sharing a common dining room, library, gardens and the support of a live-in house manager. Costs, which include meals, are shared by residents. Check out abbeyfieldcaledon.org

Bethel Green in Toronto is redeveloping a church-owned site for the construction of a smaller church in combination with 19 apartment units designed for seniors. A non-profit corporation in which all future residents will be members, Bethel Green will allow “independent” seniors over 65 to age-in-place surrounded by a caring community of other seniors and neighbourhood families. Visit Bethelgreen.com

Baba Yaga Place in Toronto launched two years ago with plans to be a residence where members can age within their own walls surrounded by like-minded companions. Residents would be able to pursue personal interests and commitment to the broader community, while being assured that their housemates will be there for increased mutual caring as they age; babayagaplace.ca

Canopy Cohousing bills itself as Toronto’s first cohousing project, a multigenerational, healthy and ecologically sustainable urban development. Working with third-year design students at Humber College to create six site-specific designs, Canopy hopes to have 24 units with kitchen, bathroom, living spaces, and 1-4 bedrooms plus a 4,000 square foot “common house”. canopycohousing.ca

Hesperus Village, in Vaughan, has 150 rent-based-on-income and affordable housing units for seniors. The community includes a “spiritual dimension”, inspired by teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner who created the Waldorf schools. Located on a ravine along the East Don River and next to the Toronto Waldorf School in Thornhill, Hesperus encourages interaction with students and nature; hesperus.ca

Solterra Co-Housing, based in Bracebridge, promotes a model practised in Australia known as shared home ownership. Each co-owner purchases a percentage interest in a home and shares the common expenses, taxes and homecare costs. Residents have their own private bed/sitting rooms with ensuite and access to common areas such as kitchen, dining, workshop, guest rooms, home office etc. A “House Mom” (term borrowed from Abbeyfield in England) helps with activities and daily living tasks; solterraco-housing.com

Janet Torge, a Montreal-based filmmaker, founded Radical Resthomes, a website and online community where people share ideas for alternative senior living arrangements that promote independence and interdependence. The online community is a growing network of those who want to meet and explore ways to grow old together and eventually to “die in our own beds, not in an institution”; radicalresthomes.com

Margaret Critchlow was inspired by her work as an anthropologist working in rural villages in the South Pacific and the years she lived in old Oakville, with its sense of neighbourly connectedness, to help create what will soon be the first senior co-housing in British Columbia.

Harbourside is made up of residents aged 47 to 90 who have decided they don’t want to wait until they are ready for a rest home, “they just want to get on with it”, she says. A mandatory course on “aging well” shows them how to stay active and connected. The 31 units on two acres were sold out before construction started. There’s a wharf, it’s walkable to shops and a former resort is converted to common house.

Critchlow, a retired York University professor, is now a director of Canadian Senior Co-Housing and predicts this type of development is “only just the beginning… Baby boomers changed the rules in the ‘60s, now they’re in their 60s and doing it again”. For more, go to Harbourside.ca

The growing need for seniors housing is a key issue for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. (CARP) The Barrie chapter is compiling a registry which chapter president Gwen Kavanagh hopes will grow across Ontario and eventually Canada, drawing together interested parties organized by postal code.

The chapter plans to rebuild or build a home with four to six units and common area with smart technology in each unit to monitor for falls and send reminders for medication or appointments. A “House Mom”, police-checked and CPR-trained, will assist and hours of assistance could increase with residents’ needs. Check out http://barriecarp.org/seniors-housing-barrie-carp-chapter-advocacy-project/

Other members of CARP are exploring more ideas. Adina Lebo, chair of the Toronto chapter, says her condo in the Manulife Centre at Bay and Bloor is an example of an urban approach to aging. Rather than segregated senior “silos”, the downtown location is a hive of activity with access to endless amenities underground, allowing residents to stay connected year-round.

“I can go to the opera in sandals when it’s 24 degrees below zero in winter,” she says.

Developers are considering similar ideas in other locations, she says, with condo towers attached to shopping areas such as Vaughan Mills and Yorkdale.

Other developers in York Region have incorporated amenities in new homes such as open space that could accommodate an elevator shaft to enable families to remain in their communities as they age, says Stewart Nam, chairperson of the North York chapter, also suggesting “Uber for seniors housing” could provide a way for seniors to network and home-share.

“Creating a Uber wouldn’t cost the government a dime – just setting up the program. But we can’t do this on our own. We need support from government.”


Facing old age can be a burden in itself, but what if you’re facing it in an unfamiliar land?

Seniors who emigrated from countries where multiple generations live under one roof often find reality is different in Canada.

If you grew up in a community where your neighbours were your friends, continuing to live with your adult children and grandchildren could be a pleasant proposition.

But for many older immigrants to Canada, neighbours are strangers who don’t speak your language, says Moorthy Sellathurai, a 71-year-old Markham resident who hails from Sri Lanka.

Many seniors from the Tamil community struggle with this issue, he says.

“Most come to Canada because their kids sponsored them, but it means they have no income and are entirely dependent on them,” he says.

“Their kids are busy with their jobs and the elderly parents spent their days babysitting and cooking and feeling isolated.”

Sellathurai immigrated in 1983 and worked for several years as a mailroom clerk, until he was laid off five years ago.

He moved from a Richmond Hill condo to live with his brother’s daughter’s family who generously provided him a room and meals for $600 a month. While he is grateful, it is far from ideal.

With four children and three adults, there is little privacy. It’s not where he would prefer to spend his golden years, but rental fees in retirement homes are beyond his means and he has been told he faces a 20-year waiting list for subsidized housing.

“You want to live a happy life. Housing is an important part.”

While some ethnic groups, like the Chinese, can access rest homes sensitive to cultural needs such as food and language, other groups, South Asians in particular, are on their own, says Dr. Naila Butt, executive director of Social Services Network.

“The expectation in the culture, that older children will live with parents, is an unwritten rule. But these adult kids are struggling in multiple jobs and leaving parents on their own, increasingly isolated.”

Sometimes these stressful situations can lead to elder abuse, she says.

“We need to create a model with support for caregivers and accessible services.”

Support in the form of paternity/maternity leave, tax rebates, or incentives for contractors who retrofit or build culturally sensitive homes for seniors could help ease the load, she says.

“It seems as if once people have done their job, they are no more use to the community and society,” Butt says. “The way we think about these people has to change. They are not a burden; they are an asset.”
– Kim Zarzour