News from Bulkley Valley Senior Cohousing Working Group

Summary of proposed Development:

  • The BV Senior Cohousing Working Group is a grassroots team of like-minded people under the aegis of the Driftwood Foundation which seeks to build a seniors’ cohousing complex in the Bulkley Valley. The complex will have a low impact on the environment, showcase eco-sensitive design, be affordable, maximize opportunities for social interaction among its residents and make a positive contribution to our surrounding community.
  • Our present vision is to build sixteen -1 and 2-bedroom dwelling units, surrounding a 3,000 sq. ft. common house with shared facilities. Four of the units will be rental units in order to make the project more inclusive. As presently envisaged, houses will be privately owned with common facilities held in Strata Title.
  • This initiative is a response to the reality of an aging demographic and the critical shortage of affordable seniors’ housing in the local area. It also responds to the need for new homes to be more environmentally sustainable as we face climate change and energy scarcities, and to build a beautiful, safe place where people come first and have a direct power over their immediate community.
  • We aim to work closely with government and other partners to help meet strategic aims and core ambitions relative to new provincial and local sustainability goals such as Smithers’ Community and Corporate Sustainability Plan and Telkwa’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan.
  • We have established a demand for this project by circulating a background paper (Ageing in Community) with an attached questionnaire. We also participated in Telkwa’s Roundtable discussion on affordable housing as part of their Official Community Plan process.
  • Proposed Common House features are: lobby entrance, office, sitting room, dining room, commercial style kitchen with preparation island and pantry, laundry, washrooms, well lit art and craft studio with north facing window, and Janitor room. The second floor would include a gym and 2 self-contained guest rooms with the stair designed to accept a stair lift. It is also our intention that these common facilities and activity areas may serve the wider community as a meeting space, mentoring and education.
  • We intend our project to showcase the best in environmentally sensitive design by incorporating such things as passive solar heating, stack venting, increased insulation, triple glazing on north facing windows, solar water pre-heating, low toxicity, low embodied energy and locally sourced materials, including bug-killed pine provided by our local Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest Corporation as part of their community outreach program.
  • Our Age-in-place design features will include all 19 measurable SAFERhome criteria, with a view to becoming SAFERhome certified.
  • Our ambition is that this project can act as a catalyst and example for similar projects in other parts of BC and Canada.
  • Current Status:
  • We are pursuing the development of this project through a tried and proven 5-step process called Nielson’s method. This is a process developed in Denmark where cohousing began and where they now have over 200 cohousing projects in a country of 5 million.
  • Through grants generously provided by our local BV Credit Union and Wetzin’Kwa Community Forest Corporation, we have completed the first step, the Feasibility Study, which views the project favourably and as likely to succeed.
  • Our group also recently received a $14,000 Agefriendly BC grant from the Union of B C Municipalities (UBCM) through the auspices of the Town of Smithers. This was used to fund the second step in the process, the Public Engagement phase, where Charles Durrett made a presentation on Senior Cohousing in Smithers to an audience of roughly 200 people. The Agefriendly BC grant also covers the third stage – Study Group 1. Study Group 1 is a period of self-discovery where, in a series of 10 facilitated group discussions, participants explore issues relating to what it means to age successfully, including the realities of ageing such as health issues, physical diminution and death. It also covers the pros and cons of various housing alternatives, the economics of getting older, team building, the group process, consensus decision making and working together. Philosophical views relating to mortality are also discussed, and examples of successful senior cohousing community design are explored.
  • If a sufficient number people emerge from Study Group 1 wishing to pursue the vision of creating a senior cohousing complex in the Bulkley Valley (say 10+) the project will be a “Go”.
  • The next steps will be forming a Non-profit Housing Society, purchasing a site and beginning the design process.
  • The final design of the project will be a joint effort of the residents signing up for the project after Study Group 1 in accordance with one of the founding principles of senior cohousing – Participatory Design. This means that the final group will work together with an architect to design the project from the ground up, including the site plan, common house design and individual unit designs. This will be undertaken during Study Group 2.
  • We hope to fund the design process through programs offered by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). They offer $10,000 in “seed” funding and up to $100,000 in project development funding (PDF). The seed funding is a straight grant and the Project Development Funding is also forgivable if the project results in an increase in affordable housing in the area, which ours will.
  • For the construction phase, if the project goes that far, BC Housing has offered to provide 100% of the construction loan at zero interest rate and to secure the best possible mortgage rates for those buying into the project at the end, as well as for the proposed rental units.

Contact person: Mel Coulson


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