Singles: Looking for a home

“You know, Edna,” her friend said, “you’ll never be healthier than you are today. Now is the time to do it.”

‘It” was selling the house where Edna had lived for more than 50 years and buying an apartment in a unique seniors’ building just a few blocks away. It was a remarkably generous suggestion on the part of her friend because when Edna Beange, 80, finally did make the move, friend Helen lost her home.

It had all seemed so sensible — Edna and Helen had been neighbours for most of their lives and, when Helen’s marriage ended, Edna asked her to share her house. It worked well for five years. Edna, a community activist and former councillor in East York (now part of Toronto) had a busy schedule, so Helen did most of the cooking.

Now, though, with her friend’s late-in-life decision, Helen had to find an apartment of her own, struggling to pay the $850-a-month rent – “a tidy sum,” as Edna describes it.

Singles forgotten
Singles are often the forgotten part of the equation when we talk about senior or retirement housing.  Brochures and articles generally picture a beaming older couple. Yet about half of the older population is ngle. And as you go up the age ladder, the proportion of women living alone increases steadily. A second fact generally ignored is that, if we live long enough, most of us will end up single.

Edna, still active in many causes, knows much about the single life – she’s been a widow for 27 years. She even headed a city committee to encourage older people to share their homes, until Ontario funding for the scheme was cut off.

Always involved, Edna became the chair of a community group called Stay at Home in Leaside (SAHIL) which was building a four-storeyed life-lease apartment building in the neighbourhood. However, it was only when her caring friend spoke up that Edna realized it was just the thing for her.

Move when healthy
When you’re on your own, says Edna, you must recognize there may come a time when you’ll not want to drive, when you can’t care for the garden, “and it’s important, as with many things in life, to make a move while you’re still healthy.”

Not only that. “I decided I owed it to my kids to get out of that house,” she says. “It’s just an extra burden that your family doesn’t need.”

So last year she moved into a fourth-floor, two-bedroom apartment with a gas fireplace, an apartment large enough to entertain 22 members of her garden club without feeling cramped.

She’s close to the church she’s attended for 30 years, can even walk to the supermarkets she’s always used and, when she doesn’t want to drive, she can walk a couple of blocks to the subway for meetings downtown.

Homey touches
Because the community group had designed it, the building has a unique homey tone. The owners decorate the hallways with their own pictures (one Toronto Maple Leafs fan has a Leafs logo on her door). There’s a window beside each front door so you can see who’s calling. The stairs (there’s an elevator too) are shallow-pitch. And there’s a cozy main-floor entertainment room where, as soon as she moved in, Edna announced, “I’ll be serving tea at three o’clock this afternoon.”

One of the best features: the owners have a contract with a community healthcare service to provide regular nursing and other care.

Life leases
Under the life-lease arrangement, if an owner dies or wants to sell, at least one of the new purchasers must be over 65, and they need the SAHIL board’s approval. That way the building remains seniors-only.

SAHIL units (they’re sold out now) went for a pricey $149,000 to $300,000, reflecting high property values in the area. Other life-lease projects, often built on vacant church property and in smaller towns and cities, go for a lot less.

Was it the right move for Edna? She quotes George, one of her new neighbours: “If I had to move back into my house, I would die.”