Our research

The Unitarian Commons team researched the need and demand for accessible housing which is designed as co-housing to encourage  community-building.

What did we learn?  Read on….

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

There is increasing concern in Canada about healthcare costs, chronic disease and disabilities, and an aging population.   Waiting lists for long-term care could be greatly reduced if homes were accessible.  There is pressure for affordable accessible housing for the growing numbers of seniors, along with people of all ages with many types of disabilities.

There is an assumption that universal design costs a great deal more than conventional design.  However, we found that the cost of universal design in housing is less than 1% more, provided it is planned from the initial design stage.

Contrary to stereotypes, universal design creates comfortably elegant spaces.

It used to be that creating a ‘green’ building was considered to be a fringe goal. Today, green design is a mainstream part of the building industry. There is a growing convergence of green design and universal design. Green features are also features of universal design.  For example:
Compact communities
Green roofs with raised garden beds, accessible to everyone
Natural daylight
Operable windows
Touchless washrooms
Automatic sensing lighting
Cork flooring

Over 200 people responded to our initial survey.  Survey responses and inquiries from the public indicated a lively interest in the project from people of all ages and abilities.

No comparable building was found in Toronto. In addition, informal inquiries at new condominium sales offices about accessible units were met with lack of information on the part of uninformed sales agents.

Our recommendations:

1. Governments and agencies should promote, endorse, support and encourage projects which demonstrate the financial viability and attractiveness of housing which incorporates universal design from the planning stages.
2. Public education for the general public and for builders is needed to dispel the assumption that “accessible” design is unattractive and expensive. Barrier-free housing is a human right.
3. All levels of government should encourage the development of housing which facilitates community-building, including co-ops and co-housing.
4. Multi-unit buildings, whether rental or condominium, should not force people into silos and ghettos.
6. All building codes should be revised to require that all new multi-unit buildings be entirely universal design.

Why do people want to live in accessible co-housing?

People told us:

I’ll never forget the little 8-year-old girl who couldn’t play with any other children in my co-op. She was in an electric wheelchair and lived in one of the 3 accessible units. None of the other units was accessible.

My relative went into hospital expecting to return to his apartment, but his diabetes had resulted in the need to amputate his leg on an emergency basis.  He never went home again, and is now unhappily in long-term care.

When I had hip replacement surgery and needed a walker, I couldn’t get into my own bathroom due to the narrow door.

If I don’t have a home, how can I get “homecare”?  Nobody should become homeless because they had a stroke or got hit by a truck when riding their bike.

I moved to a new condo and it’s nice, but I’m so lonely. I need community.

I don’t want to live in a ghetto of any kind, not even a seniors’ ghetto.

I have made renovations to my house so I can cope with the MS, but I have to go up the stairs on my bum.

I can’t visit my son because my wheelchair won’t fit through the door.

Because I’m in a wheelchair, I need room under the kitchen and bathroom sinks and counters for my knees.

I wish I had a properly accessible bathroom so I could get in with my wheelchair, and actually have a shower.

I need a stove with the knobs on the front.

I can’t open my windows because they aren’t openable from my wheelchair.

I need lower-level cabinets.

It would be so helpful to have everything within reach.

Life would be easier if light switches were lower and electrical outlets higher, so I could reach them.

My friend is stuck out in a suburban area because it was the only available accessible apartment with services. He wants to find his own apartment in the city, but there is lack of choice and it is so expensive.

I hoped to get March of Dimes funding to renovate my apartment, but couldn’t because I don’t own it.

My 13-year-old son has severe cerebral palsy. My co-op apartment is not big enough and the entrance is too small for his wheelchair.  Life would have been much easier if I had been able to find a barrier-free apartment when he was younger.  I need a much larger apartment, with a large foyer, storage for my son’s equipment, a bigger bathroom, and a bigger kitchen with a counter designed so my son’s wheelchair could access it, as he loves to help.  I am worried about where he will be able to live when he is older.

My aunt lived in a small town in Manitoba which had about 50 units in a single story building. It was built by a group of farmers and locals who designed it for independent living, but surrounded by friends and close to families. It was run as a non-profit. She loved it.