During my 25-year real estate career in the Belleville/Trenton area, I found an increasing need for a style of accommodation that allows seniors to transition from a single-family home to a more ‘carefree’ lifestyle without having to go into an apartment or a retirement residence.
Even for those who can afford the luxury of a residence where some services are provided and meals are prepared, there still seems to be the need for an alternate housing arrangement. Many seniors want to relinquish the responsibilities and work associated with a single-family home, but not move into a generic, often stark, multi-level, multi-family rental building. Many seniors I have met also don’t want to spend the entire equity from their homes on a high-end retirement residence that may cost $50,000 per year.
With this in mind, I started to consider a solution for these clients who could not find this type of “transition” accommodation. In 2019, I sold two adjacent homes for a client who mentioned that the vacant land behind her property, which was a substantial size, had never been used for anything but to let her dog run free. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to get permission from the city to build a multi-level apartment building on the land but the neighbours did not want that type of property in their older and established area of smaller homes.
Over the years, my wife Donna and I acted as general contractors on new homes we built for ourselves and we also renovated many homes over the 20 or so years we spent in the military. Many of these “construction projects” happened here near Canadian Forces Base Trenton. We had never tackled a multi-family project but, given the need for this type of product, and with the “found land” right in front of us, we decided to build a six-plex with seniors in mind.
With the assistance of a local engineer, great city staff, local builders and tradespeople, we came up with a plan for six large one-bedroom units that included their own heating/cooling systems, electrical panels, secure access, private on-ground decks and even a bright and inviting common meeting room. The meeting room was designed to provide a place where the tenants can socialize with each other – unlike a typical apartment building where people tend to “hibernate” in their own units.
Aside from the obvious “senior features” such as one-level living without stairs, large easy-access showers, comfort height toilets, walk-in closets and lots of storage, we also wanted to reduce our carbon footprint. Hence, each unit has its own heat pump for heating/cooling, LED lighting throughout the building, motion activated lights in the common areas, insulation below the slab to create a thermal break, as well as many other energy-saving features.
One of the most important environmentally friendly aspects of this 5,000-square-foot building is that we managed to build it on an infill lot near the heart of the city. There was no need to bring in any services from a great distance because water, sewer and hydro were all at the lot line. The project is even on the bus route.
Once our project was nearing completion, we wondered how difficult it would be to find six good tenants at the same time. Our low-key advertising resulted in more than 100 inquiries, from which we sent out 12 applications to potential tenants. During a one-hour open house, the first six attendees signed a lease, reinforcing my contention that our aging population is looking for this type of accommodation.
Unfortunately, housing of this nature was not available to our parents when they really could have used it. As a way to honour them for all they did for us, we named the building DANI’s Place. Our parents’ names are Donald, Andrew, Nancy and Isabel. During the construction, our first grandchild, Scotia, was born. So, it is fitting that the ‘S’ at the end of DANI’S Place is for her as well – tying all our generations together in this legacy project.