Seniors housing and aging in place

At a March 2017 PSVA member meeting, the Harbour Secondary Plan Steering Committee's mandate was being discussed with members of CE Council that were present. One of our members, Wendy MacMillan, expressed her opinion that "The needs of older Seniors who reside in Port and wish to "age in place" here should be taken into account when the future of Port is being considered and planned by the Harbour Secondary Plan Steering Committee."

Such needs as modest affordable accommodation, a supportive community that helps people live independently and avoid social isolation, accessible space and layout, a mix of ages, easy walking or scooter access to local facilities such as the library, Foodland, churches, restaurants and so on.  Wendy also touched on the importance of  Port remaining a profitable business community with amenities that effectively support seniors without access to a car and the importance of affordable transportation to St Thomas and London for medical appointments and shopping/leisure.

Kettle Creek Villa, the existing seniors apartment building in Port, is full. There are thirty 1 and 2 bedroom units and a waiting list (5 years and counting) for another 30 units. It was built 40 years ago with government loans/grants, is fully paid for and owned/managed by the CE Non-profit Housing Corporation.  Wendy also asked the Council members if a percentage of affordable housing could be made a requirement for upcoming development in Port - see the Affordable Housing page on this website for information related to this. It was suggested that she might approach Dillon Consulting to give input to the Harbour Secondary Plan process -  but was not permitted to do so at this early stage in the planning process.   

The outcome of speaking up, as is often the case in volunteer organizations with passionate people, is that Wendy agreed to chair a sub committee of the PSVA called Future Senior Living in Port!  It's purpose to look at an additional senior's residence to help people age in place in Port Stanley. This committee became known later in its life as Seniors Housing, to reflect this more specific goal and Wendy also became a Director of the PSVA.

Wendy was joined in the first 18 months by two other PSVA members, Ruth Heard and Gail Lamb and one of their early visits was to Elizabeth Sebestyen, then the Director of St Thomas - Elgin Social Services. Elizabeth was very supportive of the Future Senior Living initiative and made Neil Watson, a Housing Development Consultant with the City of St Thomas, available as a resource for the committee as they put some plans together.

The committee did their homework on available lands available in Port, the support needs for seniors to age in place, the size of building and land that might be required, models for funding/financing and managing a seniors building in Port, successful housing models in other communities, Census population stats and so on. They met with Council members and staff several times to get advice for moving forward. They also visited the West Lorne retirement home to see how that community had provided supportive housing for seniors next door to the Community Health Care Centre,  Armed with this knowledge and with the advice of staff and Ward One Council members, they made delegations to Council, and also a presentation about seniors housing options to staff, the mayor and the Ward One councillor. These documents are included below.

The committee also applied for funding under the Federally-funded New Horizons for Seniors program to fund specific research into the needs of seniors in Port, to support their delegations, but were unsuccessful. It would have been very helpful to have research to back up the anecdotal information we knew to be the case - information that is still not readily available for Central Elgin.

They were successful in proposing an Affordable Housing Focus Group to Council, with the assistance of staff and information is included on the Affordable Housing page on the work of this focus group, which Wendy MacMillan, Board Member and Dan Ross, President of the PSVA participated in.  

As of the 2016 census 31.4% of the population of Port was 65 and over. This will increase as the general population ages, the baby boomer generation moves through in earnest  and new development is attracting seniors from larger cities as a trend. The 2021 Census will show a different picture. The question is - are we ready?

Seniors are no different than any other segment of the population in their diversity. Social isolation can be difficult for seniors, especially when they are no longer mobile or have recently lost a partner. It can impact both physical and mental health.  But this does not mean that every senior wants to be the life and soul of the party every day either – they may really enjoy time alone, as they have all their life. Individual needs and preferences are often best accommodated living independently where possible. 

Examples of creative solutions include seniors who have students living in their home with them to provide mutual companionship and some support, affordable rent for the student and a modest income for the senior. We have talked to Fanshawe about this.  Seniors who share a house – they may also share a background or interest – there is a house in Toronto for retired actors for example.  Co-housing, where everyone owns their living space, but shares communal space for meals/socialising and providing non-medical support to each other.  Providing living space for seniors co-located with a community health centre that provides easy access to services such as physio, vision care and coordinated home support.

The choices that seniors can make are influenced by their financial situation but there is growing need for modest affordable rental housing for seniors as the baby boomer generation ages, including in Port Stanley.  Seniors homes tend to form their own grass roots support system. The Kettle Creek Villa is no exception. But formalizing this by co-locating with community-based services tends to provide a more secure long-term support system for aging in place. 

2020 was not the year for a senior's building to move forward, but ironically it has underlined the need for us as a society to take better care of older seniors and, at the same time, reduce health care costs, social isolation and much of the need for Long Term Care, by keeping seniors in their own homes and communities as long as possible with appropriate support, both individually and within the community.  The PSVA will pursue this further with Council, with developers and other players later this year when the time is right. Meantime it is on everyone's radar!

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