A model project for seniors housing

A model project for seniors housing

Thanks to partnerships involving the public sector, a not-for-profit service agency and a private developer, a former convent and school has been transformed into a 48-unit assisted living community.

For almost eight decades, Accueil Ste. Marie in Haileybury served as a school and spiritual resource centre.

Today, the former convent overlooking Lake Temiskaming has a new life as a home for an older clientele.

Place Sainte Marie opened its doors in August 2010, thanks to a public-private partnership that transformed the historic building into new housing for an aging population.

“Hopefully, we can do something similar in other areas because I feel that this is a great model for other communities,” said RoseMarie Raymond-Simmons, executive director of Timiskaming Home Support (THS).

THS, a not-for-profit agency with a volunteer board of directors, was founded in 1993.

It has evolved to offer a wide range of programs – from meals-on-wheels to housekeeping and personal care – enabling seniors and disabled adults in the district to live independently.

It is now Place Sainte Marie’s largest tenant, with a 9,000-square foot administration office on the ground floor of a new assisted living community.

“People say, ‘What’s the difference? It’s an ordinary apartment building.’ Not really, because you move here knowing that, if you need any help, home support is here,” said Sandra Larkin-Schoenijahn, Place Sainte Marie’s rental agent and resident manager.

The five-storey building offers 48 modern one- and two-bedroom apartments designed with retired residents in mind.

A number of tenants qualify for subsidized rents and/or enhanced services through funding from health and social service agencies.

Former convent

Constructed in 1927, the building had been home to the Soeurs de l’Assomption.

Only a handful of sisters remained in the convent when it was sold to Skyline in 2005.

The Guelph-based real estate entity planned to convert it to condominiums, but the concept did not draw enough interest. Then came the economic downturn in 2008, and there was some discussion of seniors apartments with a large rent-geared-to-income component.

Meanwhile, in nearby New Liskeard, THS had outgrown its offices.

With a staff of 110 full-time and part-time workers and volunteers, THS provides non-medical support services in a region stretching from Kirkland Lake to Temagami, and from the Quebec border west to Elk Lake and Gowganda.

In 2010-11, THS supplied 62,300 hours of homemaking help, delivered 12,700 meals, and provided 7,000 trips in accessible transit.

THS also provided assisted living services to groups of residents in New Liskeard and Kirkland Lake. Fully subsidized by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the services include daily visits by staff who help with dressing, meals and the basics of life.

When Raymond-Simmons saw the convent project at a standstill, she glimpsed an opportunity to extend assisted living services to Haileybury while preserving a historic building.

She pitched her vision of an assisted living community with THS as a tenant to Skyline.

“They said, ‘we’ll be up tomorrow,’” she recalled.

Skyline had long realized the local need for seniors housing, said Jason Ashdown, Skyline’s chief operating officer.

But THS’ involvement was crucial for the development of Place Sainte Marie as a mixed use, assisted living complex, he said.

The North East LHIN was excited about the idea of the public-private partnership and agreed to fund the additional services, said Raymond-Simmons.

The project offered Timiskaming’s social services administration board a chance to ease the shortage of subsidized seniors housing, for which there can be a wait time of up to five years.

Subsidized services

Place Sainte Marie now offers one rent-geared-to-income unit and another three that also come with subsidized assisted living services. An additional seven units are rented at market rates but include assisted living services, while seven tenants currently receive a short-term rent supplement.

All residents may opt for assisted living services of their choosing.

A nurse lives in one of the units through a partnership with a nursing home in Haileybury, and offers residents “that extra ounce of comfort,” said Larkin-Schoenijahn.

There are visits by guest speakers such as paramedics and lawyers and Skyline is looking for other commercial tenants who would be a good fit with THS and residents.

Thanks to the new arrangement, THS has also been able to offer assisted living services to another four residents in the Haileybury area, and funding was approved at the same time for 15 residents in Englehart, about 40 kilometres away.

By relocating to Place Sainte Marie, Raymond-Simmons said THS has doubled its own space, moved an adult day programin-house, and added a collective kitchen where people prepare nutritious meals together and take servings home.

“I think too many times projects try to do it on their own,” she said.

To make Place Sainte Marie a reality, its supporters realized they needed to be “really creative” and use existing resources.

It can be a difficult process, but also an exciting one, she said.

“I think also, in the long run, it was cost-efficient in saving taxpayers money.”

It’s also proved to be an award-winning project.

In 2010, the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario named Place Sainte Marie the Rental Development of the Year.

Diane Johnson is a reporter with theTemiskaming Speaker.


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