The Forgotten Ones
Co-op housing group gives people a sense of hope

By Mary McIntosh

The soft cooing sounds of a dove fill the silence as Stella Cormier proudly describes her new home. It eems somehow appropriate, this contented and peaceful sound, fitting the mood of her owner.

Cormier, 49, moved into her spotless, one bedroom apartment in Tannery Court in Moncton last  ebruary after renting a room in a group home, the only accommodation she could afford
on her limited income.

The crowded conditions required a strict schedule, curtailing the hours that residents could cook, wash dishes and entertain guests. Managing the flight of stairs to get to her room was a daily challenge because of a disability that requires her to walk with a cane.

“Here I love it because I can cook anytime I want, I can wash my dishes, I have more privacy, and can come and go when I want, and I can have visitors. I can also keep my dove. My dove is like my baby and they said if it wasn't too noisy, it could stay here. ”

Between the cracks
Cormier, was born and raised in Moncton, and despite her cheerful manner, life has not always been easy.

She lived at Crossroads for a time, after separating from her husband, but now feels she is part of a caring community.

“I call it my house, that's how much I love it. Here, it's almost like a family, that's why I call it my house. I feel people care for me, and I care for them, and I'm happy here. This is what I've needed for a long time; and it's affordable.”

Cormier is classified by the provincial government as a “non-elderly single,” one of the most neglected segments of the population when it comes to finding affordable social housing in New Brunswick.There are currently 3,723 applications on the waiting list for social housing in New Brunswick. Out of that  number, 1,147 or 31 per cent are non-elderly singles.

A basic principle of the co-operative movement is sharing a concern for community. In 2004, Co-op  tlantic, in consultation with the department of Family and Community Services in New Brunswick, saw the need for housing for non-elderly seniors in the province.

This concern launched Co-op Atlantic's subsidiary, Avide, to plan, design and build housing for those in need through its Atlantic Peoples Housing Ltd. (APHL) division. Over the past two years, Avide has built a 40-unit building in Moncton and a 50-unit complex in Fredericton and financed them through the Canada- New Brunswick Affordable Housing Agreement. The need for affordable housing is so great, Avide has plans to build three more in New Brunswick.

There are plenty of non-elderly single adults, lost in a maze of social housing programs catering  primarily to families and seniors. Most applicants for social housing are on some form of social assistance, which brings in between $285 to a maximum of $600 a month if the applicant has a disability such as being blind or deaf.

This leaves between $95 and $200 a month for housing. They end up living in rooming houses,  boarding houses and many are homeless, living day to day in borrowed accommodations and sleeping rough in cars and under bridges.

“Do the math, its shocking,” says Gary Richard, president of the Tannery Court Board of Directors. “How do they live, that's the question, how do they live? They barely have enough money to feed themselves, so housing becomes a secondary issue, and a lot of these people are living in substandard housing for sure or they're bumming a place to live on somebody's couch or they're living in a car.”

In Tannery Court Moncton, 35 of the 40 tenants bring in less than $10,000 a year and many are living on as little as $6,000 annually. Most came from substandard rooming houses where they faced unacceptable and sometimes dangerous living conditions.

“Any one of us could be just like them,” Richard says. “If we hurt our backs and can't work or we develop some form of mental illness, it could be very minor, but it could put you out of work and then all of a sudden you've got no income and you go to the government for help and they send you a thousand dollars month, it's scary.”

A thin line
Tannery Court was developed to fill that need. Although there was affordable housing for families and seniors, Barry Moore, a property manager with Avide/Atlantic People's Housing Limited (APHL), says that non-elderly singles had few options.

“There really wasn't really anything developed for singles needing affordable housing; non-elderly singles don't have a lobby group,” Moore says. “The seniors have a lobby group and they're always pushing for improvements, and in terms of families, there's always a consideration for the children, so there are lobby groups looking after them, but there wasn't, as far as I know, any large lobby groups looking out for the singles.”

Moore says finding employment is not an option for many of these clients; leaving them dependent on government assistance.

“There are a lot of them that can't work for various reasons, they may have injured themselves and don't have insurance and they're not able to get back into the work force or they may be on some type of disability but not getting very much income,” says Moore.

“Others may have low literacy skills, or they might have mental health issues, or they are on medication that prevents them from working. There are all kinds of situations, all kinds of backgrounds; there are even people that used to have two cars, a great big house, a great income, and then something happened in their life and now they can't earn a living.”

Moore admits that, in the past, he might say social housing clients were getting a great deal. But after interviewing the applicants for Tannery Court in Fredericton, he now has a better understanding of poverty in New Brunswick.

“It really opened my eyes to the situations that some of these people were living in. One guy was living in a tent, one guy was living in a cardboard box, and some of these people are just plain homeless. Some were living in rooming houses or boarding houses where there were all kinds of people squashed into a small space – they didn't have any privacy – and there were all kinds of activities going on that weren't very comfortable for people.”

Security and freedom
Rose-Marie Gauthier, 51, is originally from Charlottetown, PEI. Ms. Gauthier said she has spent most of her life living in crowded rooming houses, without privacy or the power to screen unwanted visitors.

Although her new apartment is modestly proportioned, at less than 400 square feet in total, she luxuriates in the ability to control her own environment.

“I love it. I've been in rooming houses for a very long time and I'm glad I'm out of them. Here, you have your own privacy, and it feels safer. In the rooming house, they came in at all hours of the day and night and here they don't do that,” Gauthier says. “The doors are locked; it's a secure building and that's what I like about it. If you see someone at the door and you don't want to let them in, you don't have to let them in.”

The one-bedroom apartments include a washroom, living area, a small storage area and a galley  kitchen equipped with a fridge and stove. In the past, Gauthier had to share a fridge, bathroom and living space with other residents. The crowded, fraught conditions of her past lifestyle fuels her newfound pleasure in knowing she can cook for herself, purchase her own food, and socialize at
her discretion.

“Here, I can cook for myself and I don't have to cook for other people. In the rooming house, when you cook, there were always people hanging around, and you ended up feeding them,” says Gauthier.

“But now, its how do you say that, it's my prerogative, if I want to invite somebody here for dinner I can, and if I don't, I don't have to, and that feels good to me, it makes me feel more secure, more safe and more independent.”

Open hearts
Despite the fact that most of theTannery Court residents are strugglingto get by on a tiny income, many of them are still willing to share. Moore says he found it uplifting to watch what happened in July 2007 when the new tenants moved in to Tannery Court Fredericton. Some came from larger  apartments and had too much stuff, others had just about nothing and were left scrounging for furniture.

“One guy came in with a tent and two small shopping bags of clothes and that's all he had,” Moore says. “But as people got to know one another, by the end of that weekend he had a couch, lamps, something to sleep on, people were just giving away stuff. It was just fantastic.”

Moore says that the Tannery Court properties are run according to co-operative principles, with a Board of Directors, which includes residents of the buildings. They hear feedback from tenants and make the appropriate building improvements.

Residents with disabilities living in Tannery Court Moncton provided feedback that helped to improve the barrier-free units in that were built two years later in Tannery Court Fredericton. Now those apartments are equipped with stoves with doors that open like microwaves, sliding doors, an elevator, and an area for meetings and social activities.

Moore says the Tannery Court model could be replicated across the Atlantic Provinces. “From the feedback that we get we could probably put a Tannery Court in most communities across the Maritimes, because of the people who are homeless, or who are living in situations that are pretty incredible, and they have no one to go to bat for them.”

Sidebar:

25 years of alternative housing
Everyone needs an affordable, safe and comfortable place to live. But finding a home can be a daunting challenge, if not an impossible dream, especially for the elderly and those with low incomes or special needs.

In 1972, Co-op Atlantic created Atlantic Peoples' Housing Ltd. (APHL) out of a concern for community and the belief that the strengths of the co-operative spirit could be applied to the realities of real estate development.

In the beginning, APHL developed subdivisions in the Moncton area, eventually creating hundreds of building lots throughout Atlantic Canada. By 2001, APHL had created almost 50 non-profit housing developments, condominiums, and seniors housing in communities throughout Atlantic Canada, including Charlottetown, Summerside, Stanhope and Tignish on PEI, and Newcastle, Moncton
and Fredericton, NB.

It was a totally new concept in the field of real estate development. It brought co-operative principles and a sense of social responsibility to the risky and highly competitive field of home construction.

“We became a leader in co-op housing projects and a household name in this industry across Canada,” says Ken McPhee, who has been working with APHL for more than three decades. He is now the manager of Real Estate Development for Avide, the property development division of APHL.

“We did it well – and we became the model that a lot of them looked to – of how to do it. That was our social side coming through; we were doing the social side of it – it was bragging rights – and we did a good job.”

APHL now has offices in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; its staff has many years of experience in design, engineering, procurement, construction and property management.

They tackle projects as varied as full property management services for large developments to consulting services for smaller projects. The Avide Design-Build Group has experts involved in every phase in the development of a project including building design, engineering, interior design and construction.

But APHL/Avide is more than simply bricks and mortar. Design and construction teams can build projects from the ground up and then they are able to hand off to a management group that will be responsible for the upkeep of the buildings and the care of the new tenants.

Although Co-op Atlantic has been actively developing real estate for more than 30 years, many of its members may be surprised to hear of these accomplishments.

This news is met with characteristic understatement and modesty by one of its longest employees.

“We don't brag about ourselves enough, you're right,” said McPhee.

 

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