A new 6,000-sq.-foot bungalow-style home under construction in Dominion City sounds like a very big house, but it’s being built to show how smaller homes for an aging population can be just the right fit for rural communities.
The scaled-up, multi-family house later this year will become home to a mix of couples and individuals moving from their farms and outlying areas into this small southeastern Manitoba village.
They’ll be the first residents of a first-of-its-kind Abbeyfield House to be built in Manitoba, a form of housing for older persons increasingly popular across North America and Europe.
The Abbeyfield House model began in the 1950s in Britain, after a retired British major bought and converted a house to share with others and served as its housekeeper. Today more than 1,100 Abbeyfield Houses have been built around the world. There are 21 in Canada, including at High River, Alberta, and Prince Albert and Saskatoon, Sask.
The concept behind Abbeyfield Houses is that by sharing a well-designed home together, seniors can enjoy both privacy and companionship, security and independence.
Manitoba Housing is contributing to the construction of the $1.6-million assisted-living facility, which will have 10 private suites with a shared living area for dining and recreation. It’s being built on $100,000 worth of land donated by the Emerson-Franklin municipality.
“We just want to keep our senior residents living here,” said Reeve Greg Janzen. Emerson-Franklin’s municipality has about 2,600 voting residents, but only about 250 people live in Dominion City itself.
Building an Abbeyfield House in such a small community is what makes this project so exciting, says the project’s consultant Gordon Daman, who has worked with other Manitoba towns to build seniors’ housing including Niverville.
Communities this small typically can’t hope to build housing offering assisted living service packages, he said, adding that the model until now has typically required at least 40 to 60 suites to keep rents affordable.
“For many smaller communities in Manitoba that are 1,500 or under in population, realistically, to develop an assisted-living facility is very difficult,” he said. “The Abbeyfield House model provides a wonderful example where a community builds this and still provides all of those services, but in a smaller setting. You can have it as small as 10 suites and be sustainable on that basis.”
The suites which vary in size but are no bigger than 500 sq. ft. include a bedroom, sitting room, and full bathroom, but no kitchen, except for a small fridge and sink area because residents share staff-prepared meals in a common dining room. They also have access to recreational programming, use of a shared woodworking room and a crafting room. There’s room for gardens, laundry and housekeeping services are provided under the direction of a house manager, and home care is also available.
Rents, which include utilities, vary from $414 per month for a studio suite to $587 for a one-bedroom suite. Plus two units will be available on a rent-geared-to-income basis. In addition to rent, residents will purchase the monthly $1,200 service package.
Emerson-Franklin Heritage Holdings Inc. (HH) which helps develop and manage capital projects in the municipality is the first Manitoba affiliated member of the Abbeyfield Society of Canada. Its board chair said they built this hoping to stem the outflow of longtime residents.
“For too many years, the elders of our region have had to leave the place they have called home all their lives,” said Bryan Nichols, adding he hopes their Abbeyfield House will be replicated elsewhere in Manitoba.
“All small communities are facing a similar problem in rural Manitoba.”
That is having a major impact on our small towns, adds Daman. When older residents leave town, a downward spiral begins because it signals to younger residents that they can’t expect to live their whole lives there either.
“Those age 55 and 60 see they have no option long term to stay, and so if they have the opportunity, will sell their home and exit even earlier. That affects all aspects of community life.”
A quick count tells Daman there are at least a half-dozen other places in the province where Abbeyfield Houses would fill the bill.
Making it happen requires supportive municipal governments working with citizens who are keen to have one built in their community, he added.
The province and federal governments announced last week they will contribute over $566,000 towards the cost of the project. It will have benefits for residents beyond providing an affordable, comfortable, safe place to live, said Manitoba’s Minister of Manitoba Housing and Community Development Mohinder Saran in a news release. “We know that feeling at home and being part of a community are essential for the continued health and well-being of seniors,” he said. “We are pleased to be a part of the first seniors’ housing project in Manitoba that follows the Abbeyfield housing model, which has been successfully implemented elsewhere in Canada and around the world.”
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