Seniors Shared Housing Brings Emotional and Economical Gain

By Charlotte Bumstead
Ross Raymond was 79 when he moved into seniors shared housing in the town of Bracebridge, Ont., after his wife, Patricia, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ross, a retired engineer, was forced to take on the chief caregiver role for the first time in his life. It was a very daunting task at his age; learning to do the cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundering all on his own. Before long, Ross’s daughter Shelley took notice of her father’s own suffering health, and she was forced to make a decision. “He just couldn’t keep up with those things,” says Shelley, 52. “And as his health diminished and her health diminished, CCAC [Community Care Access Centres] said to me, ‘Shelley, you either make a decision now or your father will die first.’”

In January of 2009 Shelley became president of Solterra Co-Housing Ltd. “I developed the concept of Solterra when I was an overwhelmed and frustrated caregiver,” says Shelley. Her solution is a business focused on finding stable living conditions for seniors just like her dad. “He’d never been alone before. So it’s a very different world [and] that was overwhelming,” she says. Simultaneously, Ross (now 81) was at the age when his memory was starting to become a challenge.

Ross does not need a nurse to look after him every day, but he does require help with routine tasks. Let’s say Ross has a neighbour named Joe who shares his situation. Yet, they’re each paying 25 dollars an hour for the aid of a personal support worker (PSW). “If you put [Ross and Joe] together, then the cost immediately diminishes,” Shelley says. “And that’s what the fabulous idea of shared housing for seniors is all about.”

Another economic benefit is the investment in real property. Whether there are four or six seniors living in a home, they are all co-owners. “It ensures that the money stays in the senior’s hands longer,” says Shelley. “And historically, real-estate property has increased in value over time.” Each individual has a separate bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. Only now, instead of paying 100 per cent of costs for the home, the senior is paying 25 to 17 per cent—essentially living for less.

Solterra In-Home Support Services (SISS) employs local staff for 40-plus hours a week in each home to help out with such tasks as housekeeping, shopping, food preparation, budget-keeping, activity directing, and maintaining a clean and safe environment for the home-owners.
It delays traffic to retirement homes and long-term care facilities, working with the Ministry of Health’s “aging at home” strategy. “It’s saving the Canadian Taxpayer approximately $40,000 a year per person,” Shelley says.

Currently, Solterra is building and renovating homes for shared housing in locations across Ontario. But the idea is gradually spreading across the country through similar organizations. The program is designed to keep seniors in their community, close to family and friends. They remain involved in the life they’ve built over the years.

On a broader perspective, shared housing is about allowing seniors the opportunity to take responsibility for their needs, which is what being a Zoomer is all about. “They’re allowed to age at home, with dignity, and in control of their own facility,” Shelley says. “[These are] huge points, because seniors have looked after themselves their whole lives. And all of a sudden, when you age, you’re not allowed to do that anymore?” Solterra puts the seniors back in the driver’s seat, while offering a helpful hand to guide the way.