Twelve’s company: Two couples want to make High Park co-housing dream a reality

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It began half in jest — two couples enjoying their annual weekend getaway, strolling the streets of Stratford, Ont., wistfully admiring the pretty Victorians and wondering aloud about the future.

Would it be feasible to avoid the loneliness that creeps with age by joining forces in a private home with room for shared meals and laughter and cosy nooks for private chats or reading?

Doug and Mardi Tindal (from left) with their co-housing partners Hillary Arnold and Ted Addie. The couples plan to convert their home into c0-housing space with separate units and a common kitchen and living area to share with other older singles and couples.
Doug and Mardi Tindal (from left) with their co-housing partners Hillary Arnold and Ted Addie. The couples plan to convert their home into c0-housing space with separate units and a common kitchen and living area to share with other older singles and couples.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

Two years later, Doug and Mardi Tindal, Ted Addie and Hillary Arnold, who have been friends for 30 years and are all in their late 50s to mid-60s, have parlayed a daydream into a serious plan for a co-living community. It has room for 10 to 12 people, all of whom would continue to pursue their separate lives while also sharing companionship and mutual support.

The alternative for most elderly North Americans is isolation or institutionalization — likely both, say the Tindals.

The two couples have purchased a big High Park house across from a park and backing on a ravine. It doesn’t have a real porch but there is one in their plan. Steps from the subway, the $2.2-million home is divided into three units. While they are assembling their community, the Tindals are living on the main floor and Addie and Arnold have the upstairs. The lower level with a walkout to an expansive deck is rented.

The foursome has legally incorporated an equity co-op they call Wine on the Porch Inc. They have hired an architect, who has done renderings for an extensive renovation that would maintain the footprint of the home but transform it to accommodate up to a dozen people aged 50-plus. They would all share a generous light-filled kitchen and living area. Each individual or couple would also have a private bedroom and sitting area with a locked door, 400 to 600 sq. ft. — about the size of many Toronto condos.

There would be an elevator, two guest suites for visitors or caregivers and a second dining room so residents could host private gatherings for family and friends.

Addie, a retired, self-described introvert, says he is looking forward to having a choice of whether to be alone or share some conversation.

“You always have your private space but it’s easy to plug into somebody else,” he says.

Wine on the Porch is unusual but not entirely unique. Its founders have been informed and inspired by four women known as Port Perry’s “golden girls,” who share the expense and work of co-ownership while living independent lives, and a similar equity co-op in Kamloops, B.C., called the RareBirds.

People generally grasp the potential benefits, they say, of the Wine on the Porch proposition: the ability to age in place; a gentle means of adding density to urban neighbourhoods traditionally reserved for single family homes; and the economic and environmental efficiencies.

But, as attractive as their proposal is to many people, most simply don’t take the leap, says Doug, a retired writer.

“We have a universal enthusiastic response from everyone we talk to followed by the hemming and hawing and backing away,” he says. “Everyone has thought about this but it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to realize we’re proposing something quite specific.”

What they are proposing is “countercultural,” says Doug, and sometimes just the notion of a common kitchen is a deal-breaker.

The four co-founders have put a lot of time and thought into making some decisions, including the location of the house. The common kitchen and a commitment to one shared daily meal are among the decided tenets of Wine on the Porch. Other details about how the community functions have been deliberately set aside, awaiting the input of more members.

“Why would we uproot our lives and move halfway across the city if we’re only going to meet once a month? We can do that now,” Doug says.

“Many people see giving up their own kitchen as giving up independence,” he says. “In North American society particularly we have this idea of independence as a cardinal virtue that has now tipped over, in many cases, toward isolation.”

Both couples are longtime homeowners. Addie and Arnold most recently lived in a Distillery District condo and still keep a cottage. The Tindals had a High Park condo before moving to their shared address early this year.

What do their friends think about their choice? Arnold and Addie laugh and shrug.

“There’s a lot of quiet, a lot of non-talking, they don’t bring it up,” Ted says. “Most of our friends are suburban and have homes, they love their neighbours, they feel like they have everything. They don’t know what it is we think we’re missing, why we need to do this.”

“They think we’re crazy. They’re polite though,” says Hillary, a project manager, who is the only one of the four still working full-time.

“People who don’t want to do it can’t imagine it,” she says.

But for her, the choice of co-housing is entirely natural. “My life changes so my house changes,” she says. “People get so stuck with their house and their place rather than their people.”

The Tindals have two grown sons; Arnold and Addie have four. All are supportive, the parents say.

Unlike a condo or retirement home, there is no profit built into the financial plan for Wine on the Porch. The expectation is that the arrangement will attract people like themselves, who already own a home and can pay cash for a share in the community. The number of shares will depend on whether the incoming members are individuals or couples. Both are welcome. Without more people it is impossible to say precisely what each share will cost but they think the starting price will be under $700,000.

There will also be a monthly maintenance cost attached to each share. Early estimates suggest it would be about $1,480, they say, including utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs, and a reserve fund.

If a member decides to move or dies, their share can be sold or inherited just like any other property. The only real risk, explains Ted, is that Wine on the Porch may not appreciate at the same rate as other real estate. The flip side is that it might become so attractive that it appreciates faster.

“This is not a widely established product yet so we don’t know what the future demand will be. But we’re optimistic,” Doug says.

Getting others to sign on is a challenge but the idea clearly speaks to some. Wine on the Porch organized a workshop last weekend that attracted 29 participants. Each paid about $300 to explore different models of co-housing and hear speakers from other communities, including Port Perry and a moderator flown in from British Columbia.

The price, which covered most of the workshop cost, was high enough to discourage window shoppers, says Doug, who admits they are all a little weary of smaller information events.

Response to the weekend was overwhelmingly positive. But they aren’t expecting that new shareholders will necessarily emerge from it. Their hearts have been broken before, says Mardi, a writer and former Vision TV co-host.

Last June, two other couples were on the verge of joining Wine on the Porch. They all invested two days working through a 10-page memorandum of understanding about how the community would operate. Then everyone went away to think it over.

Two weeks later, both couples withdrew, saying they simply weren’t ready.

The problem, say the co-founders, is that by the time most people are ready for the arrangement they’re proposing, it’s too late.

“People have such a resistance to being institutionalized that they say, ‘I won’t go until I have to,’” Doug says. “At the point where you have to, it’s too late for you to form community. You no longer have the capacity.

“We’re doing it for the fun, not out of fear. But that’s part of the mindset you have to bring to it,” he says.

Gathered in the Tindals’ living room on Tuesday, Doug pours from a bottle of red wine and Ted fetches a beer. There is much laughter but also the frank admission by everyone that statistically, the women will likely lose their partners first. When that happens, they say, they won’t face a big decision about moving out and managing alone because their home will accommodate them and their friends will support them through the inevitable trauma.

If she needed a reminder that they are on the right course, Mardi says a trip to the polling station in a nearby retirement home on Monday provided vivid confirmation.

“It looks like a lovely, well-appointed home,” she says. But, “there were a lot of people there who looked lonely.”

“You go to those places and there’s no crackle going on, in the halls, in the common areas, even in the dining room,” Ted says.

“And they are expected to start relationships at a point when it’s hard. It’s easier for us to initiate and begin relationships now,” Mardi says. “To ask an 85-year-old or even a 78-year-old to start all over in a new community, it’s a pretty tall order.”

Co-housing in Canada: ‘It’s not appetite that is lacking, it’s availability of projects’

The idea of co-housing, a concept that bakes community into a home, isn’t new but it is still relatively rare in Canada. It is more common in Europe and parts of the U.S.

In Scandinavia, housing is often developed around a common house and garden, which are managed co-operatively by community members.

In Canada, there are cultural, planning and financial barriers to that system and experts say that launching a co-housing community here is a lengthy, complex process.

But they are worth encouraging because they make sustainable, renewable technology more financially viable, says Sasha Tsenkova, a planning professor at the University of Calgary.

She points out that in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, many people already live in condominiums and have adjusted to the idea of shared, common space and amenities.

“We simply need to adjust to the problems of a changing society in Canada and across North America and actually change some of the planning regulations to make this easier. We’re very much stuck in a mentality where it’s really either single family homes or the tower block and there is nothing in between,” she says.

There are 13 Canadian co-housing communities operating in Canada, according to the Canadian Cohousing Network website, 10 of them in British Columbia. Another 12 are under development, meaning the founders haven’t yet located land for building or they have the land but are still in the design stage. Two are under construction in Saskatchewan.

The Wine on the Porch concept is distinct from the European co-housing model, says Kathy McGrenera, a co-housing consultant, and founding member of Vancouver’s Quayside Village co-housing community.

McGrenera chose co-housing 20 years ago as a way of providing a community for herself and her daughter. Their life has been rich, she says. A neighbour, who is now 85, read to her daughter, who had no grandparents. As a young child, the girl was free to wander around the community because, with other adults looking out, there was no fear of “stranger danger.”

“That is how many of us grew up and people long for that. But what I hear is that people’s experience is not like that,” McGrenera says.

Quayside Village is a mixture of generations, families and singles occupying separate residences with all the facilities of a standard house or apartment. They share a common courtyard and gardens. Appliances that can be used by members as needed are stored in a community kitchen. Once a week there’s a community meal where members pay about $5 to gather around the table. Residents help run the community through a series of committees.

“Co-housers tend to be sustainability and green minded. Our building does as close to zero waste as we can,” she says.

Two more co-housing communities being built in Vancouver are full with long waiting lists. A co-housing conference in the spring that was expected to attract 150 people filled a venue that held 200. The event could easily have attracted double that number, McGrenera says.

“In our situation, it’s not appetite that is lacking, it’s availability of projects. In Toronto, (co-housing) hasn’t got critical mass yet,” she says.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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‘So thankful’: SD card found on P.E.I. contains Sask. couple’s honeymoon in the Maritimes

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After losing a camera card full of photos of their honeymoon to the Maritimes more than two years ago, a couple in Saskatchewan will soon be able to relive their trip once again.

Heather Simonson, of Kerrobert, Sask., got married to her husband, James, in June of 2016 and the pair took to the Maritimes for a honeymoon of hiking, travelling and fine dining by the sea. 

After touring Nova Scotia, the couple skipped over to have a taste of Island life, taking photos along the way. But while in Summerside, they needed a new camera card to capture the last leg of their journey.

« We had picked up a new SD card at Walmart because our SD card became full, » Simonson said. So they popped out the old one and slotted in the fresh card.

And the old one?

« I asked my husband ‘Do you want me to hang onto that card?' » she laughed. « Because he’s known to be Mister Forgetful so he’s like ‘Oh no, I’ve got it.' »

‘I’m just so thankful that we’re gonna have these photos back,’ Simonson says. This is another photo from their they trip that wasn’t lost. (Submitted by Heather Simonson)

As it turned out, the card disappeared.

« We don’t exactly know how we lost it. We were staying in Summerside at the time when we realized we had lost it, » she said.

« We searched through our suitcases, we called the hotel we’d been staying at and we’d emptied out all our pockets and purses and we just searched high and low and couldn’t find it so we thought we’d lost it for good. »

Most of the lost photos were of their trip in Nova Scotia to Peggy’s Cove and around Cape Breton as well as a chunk of their P.E.I. trip to O’Leary, West Point, Summerside and around Prince County.

‘We were praying that we’d be able to find it’

Simonson said the pair was disappointed that the card was lost but thankful they at least had the photos from half their trip. They figured the card would be lost for good, but tried anything they could to get it back.

« We do believe in the power of prayer so we were praying that we’d be able to find it, or somehow it would get returned to us, » she said.

Most of the lost photos were of their trip in Nova Scotia as well as a chunk of their time on P.E.I. This is another photo they didn’t lose. (Submitted by Heather Simonson)

And it would be, as another visitor to the Island, from northern-eastern New Brunswick, found it.

Lucie Mallet, of Le Goulet, N.B., and her boyfriend were on P.E.I. shortly after Simonson was two years ago, she told CBC News in a French interview. 

She found the card while they were walking in the parking lot of a tourist spot, although she couldn’t remember which particular place. 

Mallet took the card home and put it in her computer. When she saw the photos of the young couple she knew they would want the photos back. So she took to Facebook, posting a photo of Simonson and her husband, saying she found it.

She had little hope, she said, but thought she’d give it a shot. Two years later it wound up working out.​

‘I started crying, I was pretty happy’

Just this week, after two years, Simonson thought she’d try once again to track down her lost photos, reaching out to several P.E.I. Facebook groups. 

Within the same day, a commentor on one of her posts helped track down Mallet’s Facebook post from two years prior — showing a picture of Simonson and her husband smiling.

« I started crying, I was pretty happy, » she said, seeing Mallet’s post of the newlyweds.

« She speaks French so we were only able to converse a little bit. »

We’re going to have to order in some lobster or something.— Heather Simonson

And now the family is having a « big celebration, » she said, as their SD card packed with honeymoon photos is on its way in the mail.

« We’re going to have to order in some lobster or something, » she laughed. « I’m just so thankful that we’re gonna have these photos back. It’s pretty special to have these back in our hands that’s for sure. »

In French, Mallet said by making Simonson happy, it made her happy.

Simonson said she wanted to return the favour somehow, but Mallet said she didn’t want anything because the true gift for her was seeing how happy she made the couple.

And Mallet hopes that if it ever happens to someone else, they do the same thing she did.

More P.E.I. news

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B.C. extra told Hallmark movies won’t show interracial couples — parent company denies policy – BC

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When a casting call hit the local newspaper, many Gibsons residents couldn’t pass up being part of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

For one week in August, the Sunshine Coast community was transformed into the winter setting of A Carousel Christmas starring Kathie Lee Gifford, a film based on the popular Christian Godwinks book series.

“It was very Christmas-y, very beautiful, very typical of a Hallmark movie,” said Lesley Horat, who signed up to be an extra with friends.

Coverage of Hollywood North on Globalnews.ca:


Filming was halfway through its first day when Horat said the movie magic ended with her being marginalized because of the colour of her skin.

Horat said she was allowed to take part in a one scene that featured a crowd watching the lighting of a Christmas tree. When the next scene called for a number of couples to linger behind romantically, Horat was told to sit it out.

“The casting wrangler looked at us and said, ‘Oh no, Hallmark has this policy against interracial couple representation in our productions,’” she said.

Leah Pettit and Norman Kohler also witnessed the wrangler’s shocking statement.

Ironically, the married couple was allowed to take part in the scene, even though Kohler is mixed race.

“My husband is part-Ghanaian but apparently looks white enough that we were OK on screen,” said Pettit.

READ MORE: From 2016 — Racism still rampant in Hollywood despite widespread criticism, study shows

It was Kohler’s brother who tried to pair up with Horat.

“I guess from optics it just didn’t look right,” she added. “He is fairer than I am and so we were kind of set off to the side.”

None were surprised when she voiced her concerns over the alleged policy to other staff on set.

Horat, who has first-hand experience with racial segregation, chose not to come back for the second day of filming.

“My parents are immigrants from South Africa and they left during apartheid… so this sort of no race mixing was part of my young life,” Horat explained.

In a statement to Global News, Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media wrote:

“We state unequivocally that Crown Media does not have a policy, stated or unstated, regarding interracial couples in our programming.”

“Programs and their characters should reflect the wide diversity of our audience, keeping in mind the importance of dignity to every human being. Sensitivity is necessary in the presentation of material relating to age, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national derivation to avoid demeaning stereotypes.”

Kathie Lee Gifford, right, talks about making Hallmark movies based on the “Godwinks” books, on the “Today” show.

Today

Crown Media said it will investigate the allegations to ensure all its third-party production vendors which are tasked with filming the Hallmark movies fully understand their values and policies.

A Carousel Christmas was helmed by Vancouver director Michael Robison, who told Global News he’s never heard of such a policy.

“I’ll talk to the producer of the show and see where this originated but it’s not a policy of mine,” said Robison.

“Some of these people have been working for Hallmark for 10 years and maybe, in their defense, they’ve picked up some bad habits because that’s not appropriate.”

“We are all scared to rock the boat…”

Multiple sources from within the B.C. film industry, who spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, said many know of an “interracial policy” that they said has been tied to Hallmark productions for a long time.

“It’s just common knowledge that Hallmark expects people of the same ethnicities to be coupled,” said one insider. “We all are scared to rock the boat on this issue because there are so many productions that are happening.”

Hallmark movies account for dozens of projects filmed in B.C. each year.

Horat and her friends said they likely won’t watch A Carousel Christmas when it premieres on TV in November.

“I felt like they ruined my space where I live because I don’t have to deal with that on a daily basis.” Horat said. “Why even bother showing diversity if you’re going to take it back to 1950s southern America?”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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