When Shelley’s father was no longer capable of living on his own, Shelley went looking for a way for him to live. She knew that an institutional setting would not work for him. She says, “Dad had to be in control. He needed to make all his own decisions.” It’s common for people to turn to shared housing for seniors.
Shelley, who is a Canadian, researched world-wide and put her ideas together from bits and pieces into something she knew would work for her father in Canada —his own personal space in a home with four others who also owned their space within the same home.
The First House
Shelley made arrangements with a homeowner to renovate his single-home into four suites. Each suite has a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. In that first house, because her father required some homemaking services the home started as a “Level B” home for support services (up to thirty-five hours per week) the other co-owners who also bought in were also required to accept the same level of homemaking services. This was in 2009. None of the original owners are currently alive today. When each person passed, the Estate Trustee can then put the suite back up for sale on the open market and it can be re-sold to a new co-owner. The house completely changes in character with a new co-owner, making each home very unique. Today, the home is now an “A” level home with no homemaking services, only property maintenance and selection process services. It’s like a “Golden Girls” home now.”
When asked about compatibility issues, Shelley dismisses them. “Most of the issues take care of themselves. We have found what happens is everyone sits down for lunch and dinner together and then they started hanging out together, going to movies together and eventually that included other activities outside the house. Together as a small cluster community they have more choices and full control of the governance and finances of the home.”
Solterra Co-housing, the company Shelley founded in 2009 now works to develop more homes throughout Ontario. These suites are can be sold separately, each person owns his/her own private space and shares the rest of the common areas of the home. Each suite is can be listed on the Canadian MLS (Multiple-Listing Service used by all real estate agents.) Solterra Co-housing and a Joint Venture partner usually purchase the building and complete the renovations, meanwhile the marketing to sell the suites starts immediately. Each home is unique and different based on the number of co-owners their personalities and level of homemaking services required.
Legal Challenges Won
Shelley spent almost five years in legal challenges with municipalities. She says, “They lost every Ontario Municipal Board challenge.” Now that she is on the other side of those challenges she is confident that she has set the legal precedents for Solterra to move forward without further delays. The gist of the win is that municipal zoning doesn’t control who lives in a house. A single-family home with multiple owners is still a single-family home or SRDU (Single Residence Dwelling Unit) because there is only one kitchen.
Shelley comes to this work both from her experience as a real estate Broker of Record and as a member of a family that has been in the homecare business for over fifty years. It’s important to her that Solterra also provides services that are available to people from the lowest to the highest income levels.
There is a lot of interest in Solterra Co-housing. Shelley is starting to work with strategic partners who have the deep pockets to make the initial investments in property and renovations.
As Shelley says, “I get a call from a larger city in southern Ontario that they want to access five hundred shared homes within the next five years. How am I going to deal with that?”
What Shelly is doing is what I hear a lot of people want. A suite with bathroom, bedroom and sitting room is enough space to feel comfortable about having one’s own privacy. The shared kitchen and other common spaces allows for companionship. The legal structure of owning one’s own suite resolves the issue of who is in control.
I’m a bit surprised that Shelley dismisses compatibility issues. It may be that in choosing to do this the individuals make their own decisions about how well they’ll get along before buying into the arrangement. That said, I do believe that people of good heart can get along and and have a good home together.
What do you think? Does the version of senior co-housing make sense to you? Would you like such an option? What if they were rental units rather than purchases?
Read more about how to find and create a shared housing environment: Sharing home with other adults? Remodel to Keep Peace , Home Together Canada