National Housing Day offers Seniors' Housing Symposium

By Hilary Klassen, The StarPhoenix November 18, 2013 - Seniors are beginning to make their voices heard on the subject of affordable housing. As a result, a Seniors' Housing Symposium has been planned by the National Housing Day Committee in Saskatoon. The symposium is designed to facilitate conversations that are expected to lead to creative solutions to meet seniors' housing needs. It will take place Tuesday, November 19 at the Travelodge.

National Housing Day, traditionally the third week in November, is recognized by the federal government and communities across Canada as a day to mark the importance of affordable housing in the health and lives of individual Canadians. "Representatives from CMHC, the City of Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation and the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) indicated that there was an interest from the general public in seniors' housing in Saskatoon," says Liane Dagenais, CMHC Corporate Representative for the Province of Saskatchewan.

"The seniors' housing theme was resonating the most with the clients that were coming through my door," says Shaun Dyck, Executive Director of SHIP. He's been working and consulting with a few seniors groups in his role with SHIP over the past year or more.

"The Spotlight on Seniors Housing Symposium has two streams for people to follow," says Dyck. "They can choose to either follow project design, the actual project creation from the initial idea to financing, or they can choose another stream which is all about design and management. So we're trying to cover the people that are in the very initial stages but also the people that are partway through or nearing completion and need to know stuff about management and effective boards and things like that. We're trying to help the whole spectrum of housing for seniors in this one day event," he adds.

The symposium will offer presentations representing a range of interested parties, from design professionals and developers to current housing providers and seniors groups.

Representatives from Wolf Willow Cohousing will present, "Growing a Housing Project and Building a Community" in their keynote address. Wolf Willow is one of the first cohousing organizations to come together and build their own housing unit, which functions as an intentional community.

Charles Olfert from AODBT design will do a presentation on innovative design.

Bill Holden with the City of Saskatoon will discuss demographics and statistics relating to seniors and housing and there will also be a presentation by Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

A study conducted by the Saskatoon Council on Aging (SCOA) in 2011 revealed that seniors have anxiety about escalating housing costs and long waiting lists for affordable housing options. It also found that contemporary design of housing for older adults reflected a lack of understanding of seniors needs. Cheryl Loadman from SCOA will be presenting at the symposium. She'll be part of the opening plenary about demographics and the changing landscape for seniors in Saskatchewan. Later in the day she'll discuss design and planning for communities and what SCOA found that seniors want.

"Baby boomers are moving into retirement and they're looking for places to live. You've got people in rural Saskatchewan especially, that may not have realized as much asset growth in their properties as in urban Saskatchewan," says Dyck. "What we're trying to do is to link people together and to get people, either nonprofit groups or even developers, to realize the desperate need that we're in right now."

Dyck mentions a recent RBC study that shows "over 80% of seniors in Canada want to 'age in place.' They don't want to move. They don't want to be put in a home."

Dagenais' presentation at the Spotlight on Seniors Housing Symposium will include information on home modifications and adaptations that can be made to enable seniors to remain in their own homes. "How to keep seniors in their homes seems to be a growing trend," she says.

New construction for affordable housing for seniors should consider design needs. If an older adult couple do sell their house and move to a new condo, the design can reflect needs that may be more pressing down the road. "It's possible to design the condo with wider doors so that eventually if they need a walker or a scooter they can get through," as one example, says Dyck. "Developers may not be aware of what demands some seniors have." With the aid of this type of forum, developers and planners have the opportunity to be more intentional, going forward with thoughtful municipal planning and thoughtful design.

"We're looking to bring people together to create a project -seniors, developers, design people, financers and lenders, Saskatoon Housing Authority as well as government," he says. Beyond Saskatoon, other communities including Prince Albert, Rosthern, Nipawin, Yorkton, Swift Current, and Kindersley are also wrestling with these issues and have been invited to come and participate. "The tools are there, there's people here, there's SHIP itself," says Dyck. "We're a development agency and we're here to help you get these projects off the ground and make things happen."

Registration for the Spotlight on Seniors Housing Symposium is $20, which includes lunch. "We're fortunate that Affinity Credit Union and the City of Saskatoon are sponsoring a good portion of this event which has helped us keep our costs really low," says Dyck. The National Housing Day Luncheon as part of this day long forum, features a keynote address by Wolf Willow Cohousing, and is sponsored by CMHC, Saskatchewan Housing Corp, the City of Saskatoon and SHIP. The luncheon honours contributions made by those who work in affordable housing and runs from 11:30 - 12:55 p.m.

To register, visit www.shipweb.ca or direct inquiries to SHIP at development@shipweb.ca or 306.979.6707.

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