Visit Solterra’s website at this link: http://solterraco-housing.com/
The following will appear in a “How to Guide” for Innovations in Senior Housing (June 2016) by the Canadian Senior Cohousing Society and the Community Social Planning Council with funding from the BC Real Estate Foundation:
Shelley Raymond is a Broker of Record of her own real estate company in Port Carling, Ontario. In 2009, she was dealing with two aging parents. Her mother developed Alzheimer’s and went into long term care. Her father with onset dementia wanted to stay in his own home and remain independent but he was not used to living alone or being alone. He quickly found he was lonely, isolated, and unable to maintain the family home.
Shelley was desperate for a solution that would give him the privacy and independence he craved. She knew that he needed to keep his housing costs affordable, and he also needed housekeeping services that were within his budget. Dissatisfied with the available options, Shelley explored other models world-wide and with that developed her own model suitable for the Canadian housing industry. Her goal was to help her dad have a better quality of life on the moderate funds he had available. Could she develop a non-institutional alternative for seniors that would not only be more affordable and satisfactory, but also save money for the health care system?
Solterra Co-housing Ltd. is the innovative company that Raymond created to meet the needs of her dad and others like him who are struggling to “Age at Home” yet they want to remain independent with more support to maintain their activities of daily living. She calculates that each suite in a Solterra home saves the taxpayer $43,000 per year by delaying or keeping a senior out of a long-term care facility.
Solterra’s version of co-housing – with a hyphen – is different to the cohousing model developed in Denmark and imported to North America in the 1980s. Solterra defines co-housing as sharing a home or dwelling with more than one person. Solterra projects are smaller than conventional cohousing — four to six residents vs fifteen to thirty four households.
To date, all the Solterra projects have been initiated by the company unlike cohousing models where future residents cluster together to plan, organize and develop their housing project. Solterra Co-housing finds vacant land suitable for a purpose-built shared home or they facilitate the renovation of an existing home suitable for sharing. The company screens applicants to cluster “like-minded” residents together by matching needs, health, financial and lifestyles to the available properties in the area where they want to live. A subsidiary, Solterra In-Home Support Services, Ltd., liaises with residents to provide grocery shopping, meals, cleaning, etc. The co-owners also save money by sharing the household expenses and taxes including the cost of a homemaker.
Solterra classifies its homes according to three levels of homemaking care:
An “A home” is like the Golden Girls, able bodied independent most likely younger seniors who are lonely or just are worrying about finances.
A “B home” provides up to 35 hours a week of homemaking care to the co-owners in the house.
A “C home” provides homemaking care over 35 hours. If co-owners need more, they can pay privately for more personal care as health decreases and needs change.
In both conventional cohousing and Solterra’s model, residents participate in managing the property and make decisions about living in their community. Co-owners participate in a House Committee that governs the day-to-day operation of the home. They set policy, for example, about pets and parking. They share the cost of utilities, property taxes, and other operating costs including staffing.
Like Abbeyfield, Solterra’s residences are small, housing four to six residents, and have a housekeeper who provides meals. They differ from Abbeyfield in that Solterra Co-housing homes are co-owned by the residents and registered on title/deed as Tenants in Common. Each home is unique so the percentage of value that each resident owns varies and is specified in detail in the co-ownership agreement. Residents retain equity in the property and their share in the home can be sold on MLS when they leave or die.
Although venturing into new construction of purpose-built co-housing, Solterra more often acquires and adapts private homes to meet the needs of shared housing for seniors. The resulting shared home is not considered a group home for zoning or other regulatory purposes. As Raymond points out, from the point of the municipality, a shared home is “just a house. The users of the house don’t affect the use of the house.” A Solterra home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms but a single kitchen, remains a single family home despite multiple co-owners.
Solterra homes are for healthy seniors who want privacy without social isolation. They are for people who don’t want to live alone, or maintain a family home. They are also for those who realize that they require some assistance with daily living. Similar to an Assisted Living Facility in the services provided by a paid care-giver/housekeeper, Solterra residences differ from such facilities in their small size and non-institutional atmosphere. Unlike the US “Green house” model, which also offers small-scale residences, Solterra homes do not replace skilled nursing, but co-owners can contract for individual private care as needs for assistance with tasks of daily living, as medical needs increase.
Private suites in Solterra homes are 400-600 sq. ft., consisting of a private bedroom and bathroom and often a sitting room. A common kitchen and shared living areas meet co-owners’ needs. The company looks for properties near community amenities and provides transportation services. To date, Solterra homes are clustered in the Muskoka area of Ontario, with plans to extend along the Hwy 11 corridor near Barrie.
Shelley Raymond arranged to sell the home her father had shared with her mother, and moved her father into a shared home where he was co-owner with three women. He thrived on the co-housing arrangement. She observes, “When I was the desperate caregiver I was not the daughter anymore. I kind of lost that relationship with my dad. But when … Dad was living in his shared home with other co-owners, and he had staff in the house to oversee his caregiving needs he re-gained his confidence, independence and his mental health improved.” The co-owners control and govern all aspects of the operation of the house and to Shelley’s delight her relationship changed back to just being the daughter again. “So,” she says, “it was really the best thing that I could have done.”
The shared home in Bracebridge ran for three and a half years as a “C” house, meaning homemaking care was hired for up to 53 hours a week. Turnover in the home was upsetting to residents as they had become an extended “family”. First a beloved fifteen year old dog died, then Shelley’s dad was hospitalized and passed away in early 2012. A few months later, one of the co-owners died and the home changed quickly. Since the death of the last co-owner the suites have been rented out by the trustees of their estates.
Now the house by Solterra’s standard is considered an “A” house. The youngest is 21 years old and the oldest in the house is 71 years old. Again the home has become a different variation of shared housing but together the residents have become an “extended family”. They are all independent and able bodied and they take turns doing the household chores, garbage, repair and maintenance, cooking and cleaning. Solterra still manages the house, selects tenants and provides support and advice if there is a conflict. Two of the suites are now back up for sale and it’s expected the shared house will change again shortly. Mitigating the impact of change and loss on the continuity of such a small community is a challenge for the future in this innovative, affordable option that balances seniors’ needs for independence and for social connection.
For more information:
 Shelley Raymond, presentation to CMHC national web forum, 25 March 2015
 Charles Durrett, Creating Cohousing, 2011, p. 31
 Shelley Raymond, presentation to CMHC national web forum, 25 March 2015