Barrie owner seeks people who play well with others

Richard Pearson owns a three-bedroom, 2800-square-foot home on a large lot in Barrie, just 400 meters from Kempenfelt Bay. He says it’s solid, but needs a little polishing up.

He loves the place but feels ‘house-poor.’ He’d love to find two or three people to buy in and share the place with him. There was a feature about him in the Toronto Star last year.

As a ballpark estimate, Pearson figures the home is worth about $800,000 and he’d like to retain a third ownership. Two other shares would cost about $270,000 each.

Interested? Contact Richard for more info at rpirskanen ‘at’ hotmail.com.

Peterborough site for new cohousing venture

Kawartha Commons Cohousing (KCC) is hosting a public presentation at 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto Room 303, on Tuesday, December 3 at 5pm. Here is their email invitation: 

Would you like to be part of a supportive neighbourhood without compromising your privacy? Are you looking for an alternative to the Toronto housing market? Are you seeking a dynamic community with a vibrant cultural life?

If the answer is “Yes”, then KCC might be just what you’re searching for. In this presentation, you’ll learn about the many benefits of living together in a well-planned cohousing community, and how KCC is making this happen. Join us to find out what cohousing and Peterborough have to offer you.

KCC was formed in 2017, and has since grown to over 30 motivated and committed members. They have identified a site in Peterborough with great potential for their unique community, and they are actively working to acquire it.

Please RSVP by filling in this form. For more information, visit KCC at www.kawarthacommons.ca, or contact them at info@kawarthacommons.ca.

Why is zoning a problem?

CBC’s mini-documentary program Out in the Open with the ebullient Piya Chattopadhyay recently re-ran its segment on us and, although they updated the introduction to indicate that we were no longer a going concern, we’re now getting a flurry of new contacts.

One deserves a public response because it may be helpful to others.

Nils S. writes:

I’m curious to understand what issue the city of Toronto had with zoning? 

There are many houses in Toronto owned by multiple parties that are single family residential zoned.

 
If in the building there is just one kitchen and X number of bedroom / private spaces occupied by each owner how does that not fit into single family residential? 

Perhaps my understanding is wrong and you wanted to convert a house into x number of individual self contained apartments (ie private bedroom + kitchen like a condo) instead of just private bedroom space.

Your understanding is correct as far as it goes, Nils.

The City of Toronto no longer uses the term “single family dwelling,” which was part of the previous zoning bylaw. Instead, it refers to “residential dwelling houses.” This change came about at least in part because the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner pointed out to cities that they lack the constitutional authority to determine who makes up a family.

So, yes, for practical purposes a single kitchen means a single residential dwelling house, no matter who lives in it, and that’s what we were planning.

And if we had been prepared simply to buy and occupy an existing house, there would be no problem.

However, if you want to create something purpose-built or, as in our case, a combination of renovation and addition, you are likely to face two challenges.

The first problem is in part of our own making. The millennials who are most often among those purchasing and sharing houses don’t seem to mind sharing bathrooms. We do. In our plan, every bed-sitting room would include its own, fully accessible bathroom.

The problem arises, at least potentially, when you go to get your building permit. Architecturally, the plans look very similar to a rooming house. In many parts of the city, rooming houses are not permitted. It’s not a rooming house but it looks like a rooming house. So a permit may be questioned on that score. (We never got this far, but that is the advice we heard from a city planner early in our process.)

The second problem is more fundamental and here we have to get into the weeds a bit. Bear with me.

Once you say you’re building a residential dwelling house, you fit into a specific category that has a whole host of other conditions attached to it. One of these is density. In most of Toronto, the permitted density for lands zoned for residential dwelling houses is 0.6. This means that the area of finished living space cannot exceed 0.6 of the area of the property.

In our case, for example, our property measured 70 by 100, for 7,000 square feet, and our allowable density is 7000 x 0.6 = 4,200 square feet.

But we wanted 6,000 square feet: approximately 500 square feet for each of six private spaces, and another 3,000 for common space. This non-compliance with the zoning bylaw means we would have had to apply for a variance, which, as I explained in a previous post, adds both time and money to the process.

If Toronto (or any other city) wants to encourage seniors cohousing or coliving, it needs to do four things:

  1. Create seniors cohousing/coliving as a recognized type within the zoning bylaw, and provide it with an appropriate framework. Give people an opportunity to comply with a reasonable set of standards and then execute their plans “as of right.” Currently, by contrast, the need for a variance is almost guaranteed. Additionally, within the terms of the seniors cohousing type, it needs to consider the following, listed in order of importance.
  2. Relax density restrictions.
  3. Reduce or eliminate parking requirements where appropriate (we are literally a few steps from the subway, but there was still a question as to whether we would be required to provide a parking space for each unit);
  4. Reduce or eliminate development charges.

Planners and policy makers know this, but they’re reluctant to act. Every area of the city has its NIMBY squad on a hair trigger, and there is really no effective countervailing force.

To quote Kurt Vonnegut and Inspector Clouseau: “So it goes; it’s all part of life’s rich pageantry, you know?”

There will always be wine…

… but Wine on the Porch is putting the cork back in the bottle.

We gave it three years. We talked with our friends, held information sessions, organized a well attended workshop and got enough media attention to make the Raving Orange Man jealous… and at the end of all that, having met hundreds and engaged with dozens of wonderful people, the four of us who began this journey find ourselves on our own again.

We enjoyed the process thoroughly. Each new conversation informed our vision and helped clarify our goals. The people who gave their time to meet with us over plans and potlucks enriched our lives with their varied experiences and perspectives. Among them we found some lasting friendships.

But…

In a nutshell, the people who most wanted to do this couldn’t afford it, and many of those who could afford it didn’t wanna do it. That’s much too simplistic, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth to it. When you come at cohousing from a position of wealth, you’re more likely to look on it as a sacrifice.

The very things things we chose as our key benefits, like promoting community through a shared kitchen, were often seen as drawbacks. We didn’t see it as giving anything up, but rather as gaining: gaining friends to cook and bake with, gaining the freedom not to cook every day, having a broader repertoire of recipes and skills…. But this perspective was shared only rarely.

Cost became an increasingly difficult issue. Part of that was because of choices we made, for example wanting to be in Toronto on a subway line. Part of it was the wild escalation of Toronto real estate over the past few years, and the construction boom that elevates Toronto construction costs, we’re told, 30 percent above other parts of Ontario.

Some costs are added because of zoning bylaws that don’t recognize cohousing, and specifically seniors cohousing, as a valid development type. From a policy standpoint, city planners and politicians love what we were trying to do, but the zoning bylaw won’t permit it without a variance — a procedure that can add $100,000 or more, and a year or longer.

Our last straw came in late January.

We had gathered five potential partners, two couples and three singles, who had chosen to become Associate Members and engage in a five-session process leading toward full membership.

Two days before our first meeting, we had a call from our architect. As of January 1, he told us, a new regulation had come into force, putting us under the jurisdiction of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. (Yes, it turns out we really are on a ravine.)

In other words, we would now need a sign-off from the Conservation Authority even before we could talk to the city. ‘This is brand new so we don’t really know what it means yet,’ our architect told us, ‘but for planning purposes you should probably add, oh, $40,000 and another six months.’

We think the new regulation is probably good policy, but for us it was crippling. Some associate members were concerned about the additional cost. Some were concerned about the extended timeline. And all were daunted by the new uncertainty. One by one, with regret, they withdrew. (We get the very best break-up notes!)

The four of us took some time to reflect. We set aside March 1 to consider next steps. And we decided that we would call it a day.

We continue to believe that what we were proposing is a good option for seniors housing and that it will come in time, but we are at peace with the fact that, here and now, we will not be the ones to build it.

We have some sadness about the end of this vision, of course, but we have no regrets. It’s been a great experience.

This blog will remain for whatever help it may be to others, but it will be updated only rarely (if at all).

For those who are interested in other developments in cohousing, I’ll continue to aggregate news and information over on our Facebook page.

One final thought that we take some comfort in.

Our primary motivation through all this has been the desire to create a robust and resilient community. But community, in the final analysis, is not dependent on architecture. Yes, some forms of architecture facilitate community and some detract from it. But ultimately, the quality of your community depends on the dedication you put into it nurturing and sustaining it.

We’ll carry that thought with us to the next step, where ever it turns out to be.

Thanks for being part of this journey with us and for the many words of encouragement you’ve shared. We’re not sure where the next porch is, but there will always be wine.

Cheers!

The future of seniors housing?

I wrote earlier about attending a workshop on re-imagining seniors housing organized by SE Health and Sidewalk Labs.

Sidewalk is the Google-related company working with Waterfront Toronto to design a technology-enabled community. SE Health sees the future of seniors health care taking place mainly in the home. The two wanted to get some intel on how they could better meet needs for access to in-home health care.

SE Health has now produced its report and findings from the workshop. You probably need to be a bit of a wonk to really appreciate it, but everybody needs to feed their inner wonk from time to time, so…

A cure (almost) nobody wants

As we’ve written elsewhere, our vision of cohousing includes a shared kitchen and a practice of eating a meal together most days.

In our view, this is a feature, not a bug. It promotes community, ensures variety and eases the workload of making daily meals.

It is also the most-cited reason given by people who, having taken the time to consider our model, eventually come to reject it. They just can’t imagine sharing a kitchen.

Similarly, at the recent workshop on seniors housing organized by SE Health and Sidewalk Labs, only 14 percent of participants indicated a willingness to consider living in an arrangement with shared kitchen and living spaces (full disclosure: I was one of them); the vast majority insisted that a separate kitchen was essential.

And yet…

And yet, here it is again, this time in a recent article from the National Post, citing the well-established link between eating with others and health:

Many [experts in the field of senior health], including nutrition professor Catherine Morley, are applauding a section of Canada’s new food guide that encourages people to eat with others when possible…

…45 per cent of older adults admitted to hospital for a non-nutrition diagnosis were malnourished.


“It takes a village in a situation like this,” says Carol Greenwood, an emeritus at the University of Toronto in nutritional sciences and a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.
“Families are not tight-knit the way they used to be four generations ago when people moved a block away from one another.”

See full article

I find it baffling. A shared kitchen leads to better health and longevity, but most of us won’t consider it. I guess we’re just misfits here at Wine on the Porch.

Should we stop calling ourselves co-housing?

As we have mentioned previously, a few of these cohousing folks can be a bit prickly.

When we began developing our ideas for a shared home some years ago, none of us had heard of the Danish architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer and the concept he called “community housing” — a cluster of single family homes built around some common facilities and operating in a cooperative manner.

Some years later the American architect Charles Durrett brought the community housing concept to America and renamed it “cohousing.” We hadn’t heard of him either.

We did discover that there are a lot of different ways to describe some variation of cohouseholding.

But at the beginning, trying only to name our own vision, we settled on “co-housing” as an accurate description of what we were planning. We would share a home. We would be, literally, co-housed.

Fast forward to this week, when the eminent Dr. Durrett and his charming and knowledgeable partner, Kathryn McCamant (Katie) visited Toronto to present a seminar. The afternoon before, they paid us a visit at Wine on the Porch, and we enjoyed a few minutes of sharing ideas.

One of the less enjoyable parts was Charles’s insistence that we shouldn’t be calling ourselves cohousing. He was rather proprietary about it.

We thought perhaps we could just agree to disagree, but Charles has followed up with a sort of cease and desist order. He writes:

Great to meet you good people. Just want to request that you don’t use the word
co-housing. By definition it is not. It is shared housing or Coliving or Cohousing inspired maybe. It’s about truth in advertising and more clarity. So as the person that coined the word I’d really appreciate it. Thank you, Charles Durrett.

As a sometime journalist, editor, and occasionally prickly person myself, I’m tempted to point out that Jan Gudman-Hoyer described his model accurately when he called it “community housing,” or “cooperative housing,” and it’s not my fault if Dr. Durrett got the name wrong when he imported Gudman-Hoyer’s ideas.

But that would be churlish.

So I’m gonna ask for a ruling from the people. Vote on whether we should keep co-housing or not.

The cost of things

Cost has been at the heart of several recent conversations and it seems like some comment may be useful.

  • We priced our recent co-housing workshop at $250/person, $300/couple. Some people thought this was too expensive and assumed we were trying to make a profit. Not so. It was a two-day workshop, in a rented venue, professionally facilitated, with catered coffee, lunches and a barbecue. We priced it in the hope that it would break even, and it almost did.
  • Similarly, the Associate Member sessions we’re planning now for March, will cost $250/person, $300/couple. That was enough to scare off one intended participant. Again, this is estimated to be cost-recovery. We’ve hired a professional facilitator for these sessions, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate on an equal footing. We’ll also be paying resource people for some sessions to ensure, for example, that the most accurate legal and accounting information is available.
  • Not that we think profit is bad. A younger friend of ours, Kris Stevens at CoLiving Canada, is trying to make a business out of helping people with the ins and outs of cohousing. His recent workshop was similar to ours but priced at (as I recall) about $1200. I saw some comments sniffing about how “sad” it was to see people trying to profit off cohousing. I don’t agree. From what I’ve seen of cohousing activity in Canada at the moment, it’s characterized primarily by well meaning people with no idea what they’re doing, what options are available or what will work (exactly like us, except we’ve been at it long enough to figure a few things out). The only way for it to become scalable and sustainable is for people to learn how to make a decent living at it. We wish Kris and his colleagues every success.
  • Shares in Wine on the Porch, near as we can figure, are going to cost about $750,000, plus applicable taxes. If we wanted to live a couple hours outside Toronto (as many do!) we could do it for a third or less that amount, but we want to be in the city, in a walkable neighbourhood, on the subway, and that’s what it’s gonna cost. We’ve been asked at times how much money the four of us (two shares) are making on the development, and the answer is none. With a total investment so far just shy of $2.4 million (home purchase, land transfer tax, legal, and a few, immediately required maintenance items), each couple has invested approximately $400,000 in the project beyond what we expect our shares to cost at move-in date. We’re treating these investments as shareholder loans to Wine on the Porch Inc, to be repaid from the sale of additional shares. We are charging no interest on these loans, but that’s not because we’re particularly altruistic. We looked at this quite closely. If we charged the corporation interest, we’d also have to pay rent. (We reside in the premises pending renovation.) Looking at it from an after-tax perspective, the extra paper work didn’t seem worth it. Future buyers will be getting a bit of a break, we think, but not a whole lot. But back to the main point: nope, not making any money on it.
  • Finally, we have regular conversations about the nature of this product as a real estate investment. Because you’re buying a share in an equity co-op, your investment is protected to the extent that real estate is sound. You (or your estate) can sell your share and participate in whatever capital gain may have accrued. But, because there is as yet no track record for this type of real estate investment, the purchase is more speculative than most. Another way of saying this is that estimating “market value” is more of a crap shoot than usual. If demand increases for this type of housing, you might expect your share to increase with the market or even better; if there is limited demand, you might sell at a loss. Personally, I’m comfortable with this as an investment in real estate terms, but that’s not how I suggest people should look at it. What you’re acquiring is a share in a co-op, but what you’re buying is community.

Ultimately, then, it’s really not about cost. It’s about value.

One final word. Right below this post, there may be an ad (I don’t know, I never see them). WordPress puts them there in exchange for giving us this free blog. At least one reader was offended by a credit card ad she saw there and wrote to me about it. I have no control over the ads and (contrary to her assumption) derive no revenue from them. I suspect there might be enough people willing to pay $5 or $10 for a subscription so that we could cover the costs of moving this site to a non-free platform and maintaining it there, but it would certainly exclude many others and I’m not sure it’s worth it. Comments welcome.

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.