Author: Kate Chung

Northwest Cohousing

Proposed Cohousing Project









The Unitarian Fellowship of Northwest Toronto has been working with Unitarian Commons over the past year on a proposal to add cohousing units to its 90 year old stone building.  Unitarian Commons is made up of seven members from five GTA Unitarian congregations and has been working for the past several years to facilitate accessible, affordable cohousing that will be energy efficient, environmentally responsible and barrier-free. In 2020, the project received the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Northern Lights Chalice Lighters Award.

The project will retain the front of the existing stone heritage building, to be used for the Fellowship Hall, a large community kitchen, meeting room and upper reading room. The three-storey addition of nine one-bedroom units on the back will have balconies that overlook the Humber River Valley.

Cohousing consists of private, individual units complete with living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.  Common spaces are shared by the residents and accommodate weekly meals and community activities. The intent is that the members of the Fellowship will share the common facilities with the residents of the cohousing units and will be one community.

The Northwest Fellowship and Unitarian Commons have undertaken a Feasibility Study that includes an investigation of site planning, heritage and architectural design issues.

For more information please email

Living in Place Campaign

“Living in Place”©, a campaign of the Older Women’s Network housing
committee, advocates that federal and provincial building codes be changed to
require that all units in new multi-unit residential buildings be entirely universal
Disabilities play no favourites. Anyone can have been born with a disability, and
anyone of any age can be struck by illness or accident which creates a
temporary or lasting injury.
Universal design will accommodate anyone of any age or ability, going beyond
mere accessibility. It demonstrates an underlying commitment to including as
wide a range of users as possible.
Barrier-free housing should be a human right. Age-ism and able-ism are the last
frontiers of discrimination.
The Living in Place© campaign has been endorsed by Toronto City Council. As
Mayor John Tory says of the proposal to make all new apartments universal
design: “It’s a no-brainer.”
As the next step in the campaign, the Older Women’s Network is calling on
everyone to write to their provincial and federal politicians, urging the change in
the Building Codes.
Learn more: Thea Kurdi, an Architectural Accessibility and Universal Design
Specialist, explains

Have You Written to Your MPP?

The Older Women’s Network’s “Living in Place” campaign is calling for the Ontario Building Code to be changed to require that ALL new residential buildings be 100% universal design or easily adaptable, so that anyone of any age or ability can live there. Toronto City Council has endorsed this campaign.

OWN is asking everyone to write to their MPP (all parties), as well as the Premier and the Ministers of Health, Finance, and Housing.

A sample letter (below) can be used as is or can be adapted. It is certainly more effective if people add their personal circumstances and concerns, but the important thing is to contact the politicians, even with one or two sentences.

We’d be grateful if you could pass this request along to anyone who might be willing to write or speak to their politicians.



Re: Urgent need for universal design apartments and condominiums

Whatever their age or ability, everyone needs a home, and preferably a home they will not have to leave due to accident or illness.

At present, thousands are forced out of their homes, at the most vulnerable time in their lives, simply because the home is not built to be barrier-free or easily adaptable when needed to become barrier-free.

The result is overflowing beds at hospitals and long term care facilities, and long waiting lists.

Just imagine the difference if the Ontario Building Code required that all units in new multi-unit residential buildings were 100% accessible, instead of the current 15% “visitable”, and if all used universal design principles.

Universal design allows spaces to accommodate anyone of any age or ability, going beyond mere accessibility.  It demonstrates an underlying commitment to including as wide a range of users as possible for a “lifetime of changing needs and abilities”.

Over 4.4 million Canadians (one out of every seven) currently live with some form of disability. And the numbers are growing as you and I age, with estimates that this will change to one out of every five within the next 15 years.

Many people, including many builders, believe that universal design costs a great deal more than conventional design.  However, evidence from places where universal design is more commonly used, such as Australia, shows that the cost of universal design in housing is less than 1% more when planned from the initial design stage.  It is renovation to conventional housing, changing it when accessible accommodation is needed, that is prohibitively costly.

I urge you to ensure the Ontario Building Code Section is revised immediately in keeping with the legal requirements under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code to recognize all persons with disabilities as people first, by making universal design mandatory in all rental and ownership apartments.

Thank-you for your support of this urgently needed change.


People of all ages need barrier-free homes

People of all ages need barrier-free homes
Pamela Andrews struggles to get her 13-year-old son in or out of their
downtown Toronto apartment.
“The small lip on the threshold is very difficult to navigate in the power
wheelchair”, she says. “It doesn’t look big, but it makes it very difficult to
enter, and Aidan can’t get into the apartment by himself. I have to turn him
backwards and push the chair in while the power is on full throttle.”

Aidan in wheelchair at lip on threshold in entrance
The only entrance to the apartment is from an outdoor hallway. Pamela
explains, “Yes, snow has to be shovelled on our outdoor hallways. Aidan’s
wheelchair is pretty good in a few inches of snow, but not all wheelchairs
Aidan, who has cerebral palsy and does not speak, is working toward
learning to walk. At home, he hitches himself along the floor, and has
learned to get into bed.
Life would have been much easier if their apartment had been barrier-free
from the time Aidan was younger, and Pamela wishes they had a bigger
apartment where a larger walker would fit. She needs a larger space with a
roomy foyer, and a bigger bathroom with the possibility of installing a lift to
help her move Aidan into and out of the bathtub now that he is growing so
much heavier.

Small bathroom inadequate for Aidan’s needs

As they live in a rented co-op apartment, it is not possible to do much in the
way of renovations. She has made only minor modifications to the
apartment, such as easy-to-turn handles on the bathroom sink. The
bathroom entrance is too small for Aidan’s wheelchair.
Pamela would like to have a kitchen with a counter designed so Aidan’s
wheelchair can access it, as Aidan loves to help cook. Because there are
no doors on the kitchen, Pamela cannot shut it off. So she has to get up
early before the children awake to do any cooking & baking. She is afraid
Aidan might open the hot oven door and burn himself.
Pamela and Aidan in their kitchen
Pamela expresses appreciation for the support of neighbours. The co-op
replaced the carpet with laminate flooring so Aidan could use his walker, redid
the foyer to protect it from denting by the wheelchair, provided extra
storage space for his equipment, and put in new doors with easy to open
lever handles. Because she does not own the apartment, she has been
unable to get March of Dimes renovation funding.

Aidan’s wheelchair barely squeezes through the doorway

Pamela says that she has community in the co-op, where she knows
everyone. It would be difficult to move now, even if a barrier-free unit were
to be found. “I did consider moving at one point to an accessible
apartment. We would have to get on a waiting list, wait a few years (until
someone died likely). But then Aidan would become an adult, and my
daughter and I would have to move again. Stability is important for me.
Plus I like this building. We have a community here in this neighbourhood
and in this building. So I stay. Its not great for Aidan, but its good for our
She worries: “ When Aidan is older, he will need his own universal design
place. – But where can he go?”


Why the caregiver and the wheelchair rider need universal design in their apartment

Why the caregiver and the wheelchair rider need universal design in
their apartment

Jane” (not her real name), age 36, is the primary caregiver for “Louise” who has

Jane wrote:
If homes are built with Universal Design, it would allow my roommate, Louise, to
enter and exit the apartment and building independently. This would free me
from scheduling my day and work hours around her trips in and out of the home.
She would also be able to enter the washroom/kitchen to wash her hands in the
sink, to bathe in the bathroom and not on the bed/wheelchair. This would make
it easier for me to assist her with her daily hygiene and require less strain on my
back when helping her perform these tasks.
Universal design would also have spaces designed to accommodate assistive
devices like a Hoyer lift to transfer Louise between the bed and her wheelchair.
For now, it takes a fair bit of shuffling and removing of dressers and normal
bedroom storage furniture to make room for a lift.
I would love to have an accessible kitchen where Louise could participate in
meal preparation and have access to the balcony to enjoy the garden or the
view. She loves cooking and has not been able to participate in meal
preparation for more than 4 years.
We should be able to utilize every part of our living space, especially the
common spaces that are usually shared.

Louise wrote:
Louise, age 45, uses a 500 pound electric wheelchair due to MS. She writes:
Universal design would enable me to do fundamental things that most people take
for granted. I would be able to open the front door to my apartment because I
would have a device that would unlock it and hold it open, and the doorway would
have no lintels or barriers that I would need assistance crossing. My apartment
building would have similar devices in the hallways and throughout the building so
I would be able to move freely and socialize as I liked.
Right now, if I don’t have help leaving my apartment, I have to stay home.
In the world with Universal Design, my bathroom would have a doorway wide
enough for a wheelchair, and it would have a shower that I could drive into. That
would make the difference between being able to wash my hair in the shower, and
having my hair washed over a basin in the hallway.
The social importance of universal design can’t be ignored either. Too many
discussions with family or friends about plans for get-togethers and celebrations
finish with the sad conclusion that I won’t be able to participate because stairs
prevent me from even getting into their building. It’s gotten to the point where I
assume that I won’t be able to take part in social gatherings because if I can’t get
around in my own living space, why should I expect that I would be able to in
anyone else’s?

What is Universal Design? Why do we need it?

What is Universal Design? Why do we need it?

Universal design will accommodate everyone of any age or ability. True universal design goes beyond mere accessibility. It demonstrates an underlying commitment to including as wide a range of users as possible.

The Older Women’s Network housing committee is calling for a change to federal and provincial building codes to require that all new multi-unit buildings be universal design.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act does not include housing. It regulates accessibility of public buildings and businesses.

We need innovative housing which is affordable, barrier-free, multi-generational and promotes the building of community.

Disabilities play no favourites. Anyone of any age can have been born with a disability or can be struck by illness or accident which creates a temporary or lasting injury. We have all heard of the cyclist hit by a truck and the stroke patient who cannot return home to an inaccessible apartment. Nobody should be made homeless due to accident or illness.

If need arises, home-care services can be arranged, provided the home is barrier-free.

While OWN focusses on advocacy and public education, a sister organization, Unitarian Commons, is aiming to build the first building to tackle the twin socio-health problems of isolation and barriers to mobility in homes.

Due to the difficulty in finding funding for rental housing, they are starting with a non-profit, affordable condo building.

Not wanting to end up in a seniors’ ghetto, the Unitarian Commons team decided to build multi-generational co-housing. It is their hope that this pilot project will be replicated by others across Canada.

Despite a search, no comparable building was found in Toronto. Despite the fact that the Ontario Building Code requires that 15% of units be accessible, informal inquiries at new condominium sales offices about their accessible units were met with lack of information on the part of uninformed sales agents.

Over 4.4 million Canadians (one out of every seven) live with some form of disability. That’s a substantial group of possible buyers who are generally overlooked by builders.

The increasing concern about healthcare costs, chronic disease and disabilities, and an aging population creates a corresponding demand for affordable barrier-free housing.

There is a misperception that universal design costs a great deal more than conventional design. However, in fact, the cost of universal design in housing is only about 1% more, provided it is planned from the initial design stage.

Contrary to another common misperception, barrier-free homes are actually spacious and elegant, due to their thoughtful design.

Most important of all, barrier-free housing is a human right. Age-ism and able-ism are the last frontiers of discrimination. A Charter challenge is currently underway in an effort to end discrimination in housing design.

Over 200 people have responded to the brief survey which is available on the websites of both OWN and Unitarian Commons. By answering the survey, you can help us demonstrate to government and builders that people need and want universal design in housing. You can do this online at or by email or snail mail at

You can also help by letting your elected representatives know about this need, and by dropping into sales offices to ask about barrier-free design in new condos.

The Older Women’s Network Housing Committee gave a presentation on June 20 at the City of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Committee.  Mayor John Tory sat in on the presentation.  OWN member Thea Kurdi, an Architectural Accessibility and Universal Design Specialist, did a wonderful job of making this controversial topic clear.    You can see the presentation here:



Unitarian Commons has been offered 30 units of universal design co-housing in each of 2 new Toronto developments by Options for Homes.
Front St & Cherry St (sharing the site with a new long term care facility),
and Sherbourne & Carlton (opposite Allen Gardens).
Both buildings will be completed in about 4 years.

If you would like to buy a universal design condo unit at one of these sites, please send an email, stating your preferred location, to

“Options for Homes is in meetings with the City of Toronto Planning Dept.
Until all approvals are in place, they can’t give us detailed plans.”

Condos 101
We highly recommend this useful little free seminar presented by Options for Homes – everything you need to know about buying a new construction condo. These free, one-hour sessions walk you through each step of the purchase process.  Condos 101 sessions are not sales events. Instead, they focus on providing you with the information you’ll need to make the best condo purchasing decision for you – whether with Options or elsewhere.

Barrier-Free Design Presentation

The Older Women’s Network  hosted a presentation, as part of its AGM, on the subject of Barrier Free Design and the latest research, particularly the exciting new developments at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

For more details visit the OWN website.