‘I don’t know what I’m going to do’
Former Chelsea mayor, seniors have nowhere to go
The former mayor of Chelsea doesn’t know where he’ll be able to grow old.
André and Diane Renaud, who are both in their 80s, said they fear that they won’t have the option to age in their own community, as taking care of a one-acre lot is becoming more and more difficult every year.
Seniors’ housing is almost non-existent in the region, despite the fact that the number of residents above 65 is about to greatly increase. This makes people like André and Diane fear that their chance to grow old in Chelsea – where they raised children, created memories, and have always called home – will disappear.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” admitted André. “When you are our age, you can’t just move to Ottawa. My doctor is here. I’m not changing doctors when I’m 80…”
“We could sell our house, but one of those new condos would cost the same price. It’s ridiculous,” said Diane from her home in Chelsea. “This is our life here,” added Diane.
André and Diane, both 82, have been living in their Burnet home for 53 years. The two have been heavily involved in the community since moving here. André served as municipal councillor from 1969-71 and as mayor of Chelsea from 1971-73; he was the founder of Wakefield’s Palliative Care Home, chairman of the Wakefield Hospital Board, and one of the strongest vocal presences for saving the hospital from closure in 1981. Diane has been equally involved; she was a founding member of the Peggy Brewin Pre-School and the Gatineau Valley Gardeners.
The MRC des Collines de l'Outaouais has an aging population and no major strategy to house them.
According to data from La Table de Dévelopment des Collines-de-L’Outaouais (TDSCO), there are just 162 private and social housing units for seniors in the region, and with close to 6,400 residents over the age of 65, the need for a housing strategy is way overdue.
“It’s really about diversification of housing that we are hearing a lot,” said TDSCO project manager Mijanou Gravelle, who held a region-wide housing forum in late September. Close to 90 per cent of homes in the MRC des Collines are single-family homes, which means affordable rental options are scarce at best.
“We need different sizes of housing, different costs of housing, and more rental housing, because right now it’s primarily [single family homes]. Affordability is always a main concern,” said Gravelle.
While there are a few upcoming projects in Chelsea to help alleviate some of the pressure, it’s a “drop in the bucket” compared to what the region really needs, according to Chelsea Housing Corporation vice-president Céline Brault.
She has been working on a Farm Point seniors’ housing project for over 10 years — the only seniors’ home in the municipality.
Despite numerous setbacks, including a three-year moratorium on provincial permits for seniors’ homes following a fire that killed 32 seniors in a home in L'Isle-Verte in 2014, the project is finally ready for shovels in the ground.
“I never would have thought it would have taken so long,” said Brault, who began working on the 12-unit home when she began her mandate as municipal councillor in 2010. She added that the latest $4.1 million price tag has increased, but she couldn’t give a figure.
“It’s 10 years. I can hardly believe that. I can believe it when I look at myself in the mirror,” she said.
After successfully drilling a well for the home in the spring, Brault said she is hopeful that all the professional studies needed to secure provincial approval will be completed in time to go out to tender for construction early in the new year. But with such a demand for seniors’ homes in the region, there is already a waitlist of 70 people for just the 12 units that will be available. Brault added that several seniors have since gotten too ill or have died before being able to see the project realized.
MRC Prefect and Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green agreed that there is a “screaming need” for more seniors’ homes in the region and said that the next council, in its upcoming master plan, will consider adopting legislation that would mandate developers to build a certain percentage of affordable rental units within their projects. She added that another 60 seniors’ housing units, along with a daycare, are set to be built as part of the Quartier Meredith development near the post office on Old Chelsea Road.
“It’s been on my radar for a very long time,” added Green. “What I hear constantly is that seniors leave the MRC for the city because there is no housing and we lose all of their knowledge, their experience, their presence. It’s been a constant drain and, yes, it is very much concerning with the ageing population. We are going to really need to step up.”
Another project that could also alleviate the pressure for seniors in Chelsea is Chelsea Creek’s “intergenerational” phase two, which would see the construction of 200 rental apartments for young families, professionals, and seniors. Developer François Juneau told The Low Down that the project is currently handcuffed by the municipality’s new master plan, which won’t be adopted until a new council is sworn in after elections on Nov. 7.
“This will be for seniors from the MRC des Collines that don’t want to leave the area or can’t or don’t want to stay in their homes,” said Juneau, adding that the units could potentially cost as low as $1,000 per month. “Also, there are a lot of young people that don’t want to live in their parent’s basement anymore.”
Juneau said the intergenerational approach will create a community rather than just apartments, as the project will also include a central park, greenspace, and nearby amenities.
While André and Diane said they would love to age in place at their beloved Chelsea home, they admitted they may have to “bite the bullet” – as André put it – and move into a seniors’ home. The question they said that is on both of their minds is: where?
If you have any information or comments about the region’s housing situation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 819-459-2222.