Re-imagining homes for seniors

I took part in an interesting exercise a couple weeks ago. “Re-imagining Homes for Seniors” was sponsored by SE Health and Sidewalk Labs.

SE (formerly Saint Elizabeth) is a home care provider and Sidewalk is partnering with Waterfront Toronto to develop part of the eastern waterfront. Together they’re looking at models to provide affordable housing for seniors.

They lured a few dozen of us to Sidewalk’s offices down on Lakeshore East with the promise of a free breakfast, then put us in table groups and picked our brains about the kind of facilities and services we would want to see in a new development.

The premise was that we were communicating our housing needs to our real estate agent. We were asked to address options in seven categories:

  1. the nature of the physical space, whether fully self-contained apartment or what they called “cluster co-living”)
  2. is social or community programming available? If so, are there staff to organize it or do residents organize it themselves?
  3. what care options are there, from home care to onsite medical staff
  4. what support options exist, from community watch to
  5. options about living arrangements like home sharing and inter-generational facilities
  6. transportation options
  7. additional amenities.

What made it interesting was the use of a fixed “budget” of four points. For example, if you chose onsite medical staff, the Cadillac option in the health care category, that would cost you 2 points. Self-contained apartment? That’s another point. Your own parking space? One more point for a total of four, and you’re done. Don’t even think about any additional amenities.

Paolo Korre, SE Health’s director of Service Design, explains: “Over much of the last year, we’ve been doing research about emerging trends, innovations, and leading examples of senior living across the world. Along with Sidewalk labs, we compiled a list of the categories from this research that we felt haven’t been as well explored or discussed in Canada (at least not in Toronto), such as co-housing models. ” 

“The budget was intended to prompt conversation about priorities. By restricting the budget we would force participants to outwardly identify their priorities or at least identify what they value and where the conflicts are. This gave us insight into the trade-offs and compromises people might make.

“In general, if an option would increase the cost of rent, or would require investment, it was given a point (or 2 in the case of very resource-intensive options, like an onsite medical clinic). Some of the options, have the potential to save costs to the individual, e.g. co-housing or cluster living, so they were given a -1 point score.”

Each option was represented by a card. Pick your option and glue it onto the provided template for each category. I’m not sure if they saw this as an arts and crafts activity or just an easy way to collect data, but hey, everybody likes a glue stick.

In my case, the exercise affirmed the value of our Wine on the Porch model. With my template complete, I had the following choices:

  • Physical space: Cluster co-housing      -1
  • Social programs: self-organized           -1
  • Health programs: Home Care                  0
  • Support: Community watch                       0
  • Living arrangements: 50+                        0
  • Transportation: walk to subway              0

In other words, in the first six categories I totalled minus 2. So when it came to additional amenities, I could select all three — private outdoor space, onsite storage and guest suite, 1 point each — and still have a net total of only 1 point. Waaaaay under budget.

In fairness, our per person capital cost is probably higher than SE Health and Sidewalk Labs would project, because we’re not operating at similar scale. But it still makes the point that co-housing, in addition to its other benefits, delivers a lot of economic value.

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