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SENIORS EDITION: Avens moves forward with affordable housing project

Affordable housing is one of the biggest pressures on seniors living in Yellowknife and that is why Avens is expected to be moving forward with a major construction project this year.

Avens seniors' community offers independent living, long-term care, and dementia care. Options for seniors' care outside Yellowknife are more limited. 
NNSL file photo

Daryl Dolynny, CEO of Avens said the 10-acre campus is expected to grow over the coming years after an internal needs assessment was completed in November. Dolynny said based on the Yellowknife market demands for seniors housing the campus is looking to expand with a project called the AVENS Pavilion Project to eventually provide affordable housing.

"Providing timelines are maintained we could see intake as early as spring/summer of 2022," he said.

The expansion could lead to the largest construction project in the campus's history.

"The idea here is that Avens wants to put 102 units of affordable senior housing into play," he said. "Our intention is to build 92 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units that are going to be adequate, accessible and affordable, that meet all of the energy efficiencies of today, and that really compliment the Avens campus. 

"We expect this to be the largest undertaking on the Avens campus in its history and so we are pretty happy to add this to our existing offering."  

Avens currently provides an array of services for seniors that include 29 long-term care beds and 28 dementia care beds and 32 independent housing initiatives. There is also senior wellness and respite services offered, and the Baker Centre is rented the Yellowknife Senior Society, which provides various programming for seniors. 

Dolynny said he is overseeing the project with a project manager and committee and is working closely with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to use federal money to construct the units.

Sandra Turner, Northern Specialist with CMHC declined comment for this story as Avens is yet to receive funding.

In November 2018, the Northwest Territories and the federal government signed a 10-year agreement that would see $140 million of federal money go to the NWT for various housing projects through the National Co-Investment Fund.

Of that money, $60 million is earmarked for seniors affordable housing initiatives and the federal government providing up to 75 per cent of the project's overall cost.

Dolynny said it is pretty clear based on the Avens needs assessment study -- which compiles statistics from various GNWT and federal reports as well as reports by the NWT Senior Society -- that there is a long-term need for more affordable housing. He said the major conclusion that his report has made is that over the next 10 years, there is expected to be a deficiency of between 366 and 443 beds for senior citizens living in Yellowknife.  

Dolynny said the next steps will be to issue request for proposals to see what might be available in the way of contractors and what they might need for such a project. He said he expects that within eight weeks Avens will reach out to the public through community consultations, where he can hear feedback from the public and also share information from the needs assessment and where the manor is heading with the project.

Dolynny said one of the big things that Avens recognizes with the needs assessment study and the proposed project going forward is the need for seniors to "age in place" or to retain a level of independence in their own homes as they get older.

In fact, the term has been identified as one of 22 priorities by the 19th assembly and was noted in the Mandate of the Government of the Northwest Territories released on Feb. 7.

He said with an added boost to housing, he is also aiming to increase services for seniors living at Avens that would include complementary things like Meals-on-Wheels and physical and non-physical activities.

"AVENS and the GNWT share a vision  of supporting seniors to age in place, in their homes and communities and of providing support to caregivers," he said. "We know seniors are looking for personal support services like house cleaning, shopping, assistance with daily activities of living, social connection programs and enhanced nutrition options.

"AVENS sees itself as a centre of excellence of seniors support that can sustain opportunities for socialization, inclusion and choice. Our vision is and always has been that Seniors have access to a safe and caring community for life."

Suzette Montreuil, executive director for the NWT Senior Society said promoting senior independence in such a project would be ideal, based on what her society finds Northern seniors want.

"The big thing with seniors is they want to stay in their own home and it is a very high (percentage ) - 80 per cent of seniors -- want to stay in their own home," she said.

She added that there are obstacles that older people face when living independently, however, that supportive housing as proposed by the Avens board, could assist. Among them include the ability to get repair work in houses as contractors tend to want larger projects rather than small maintenance projects, she said.

She said other services like yard work or cooking meals or shopping may also be required for people who seek to live independently.

"Sometimes you have a type of residence that is called Supportive Care which is like an apartment with a central area," she said. "(Senior residents) would still have privacy and be able to take care of personal care, but they might have common meals or housekeeping is taken care of. It is just an extra level of assistance and all of that can happen and keep people in those (independent) situations instead of them having to go to long-term care."

New housing options could also help with the high level of seniors who complain about housing quality, Montreuil said.

According to the NWT Senior Society and based on GNWT statistics, 42.7 percent of NWT seniors of age 60 or more have reported a problem with affordability, adequacy or suitability in their housing, she said. 

"So that is almost half (of all seniors) and 42.7 per cent is a lot of people," she said, noting that the figure varies from community to community across the NWT.