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New Ottawa Affordable Housing Development: A Lesson In Inclusion By Design At The Longfields Site

Julie Kingstone and Keenan Wellar had the privilege of representing LiveWorkPlay and attending a special January 18 gathering to celebrate the launch of a new and highly significant affordable housing community in Ottawa. LiveWorkPlay will be helping include individuals with intellectual disabilities when the project in the Longfields area of Barrhaven is completed in 2017.

Julie checks out a one bedroom!

Following an RFP process with many excellent proposals, the Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) submission was selected. With a design by Barry J. Hobin and Associates Architects (known for many projects including Beaver Barracks where several LiveWorkPlay members live) the focus is on quality and inclusive housing that supports a thriving mixed income community.

“This is about more than houses. As you see in the visuals, there are clearly different types of buildings where people live, but what draws the eye the most is the pathways and people moving about and making connections. This is about a housing community that supports building relationships with each other and also the surrounding Barrhaven community” said architect Gordon Lorimer. Lorimer went on to explain the many features that promote deliberate community, which include:

  • designing the different types of homes such that “everything is a front” there is no fenced off “back” to be found: “there are no secluded areas”
  • promoting a walking and talking culture with easy access to the Longfields Transitway Station and local shopping, schools, and parks
  • there are shared play areas with critical natural safety built in: they are centrally positioned and surrounded by the windows of watchful neighbours
  • this is not only a mixed income community, there are also deliberate efforts to include people with disabilities: 100% of the units are visitable by wheelchairs, 10% are fully wheelchair accessible, and with LiveWorkPlay as a partner, some individuals with intellectual disabilities will be included too

Designed for making connections!

LiveWorkPlay is fortunate to partner with Ottawa non-profit housing providers, including not only this new project by MHI, but also CCOC and Nepean Housing. It likely goes without saying that every municipality could use a lot more affordable housing communities with this inclusive mixed income approach. The issue was recently debated on CBC radio in the context of a private member’s bill. In many ways these communities reflect what many people would like to see for entire societies.

Currently the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services is looking to address the long list of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their family members who are looking for housing. LiveWorkPlay is encouraging the Ontario Developmental Services Housing Task Force (which is tasked with promoting innovation) to look beyond traditional Developmental Services models such as group homes and other structures that physically and conceptually separate individuals with intellectual disabilities from other citizens.

The question of “Where should they live?” is perhaps best answered with “In homes of their own like other citizens enjoy as members of mixed communities and with the supports they need to experience success.”

Different types of homes, but all facing front!

Although for some that answer may seem obvious, the challenge of course is they need to be able to access the housing (overcoming barriers that range from economic to physical) and they also need help with the natural and paid supports required to be successful there and in the rest of their lives. Family members need help getting started while their children are in early adulthood, rather than being forced into urgent housing choices when options start running out later in their own lives.

It’s a puzzle, and right now the pieces are scattered in too many places.

Within the context of the Task Force discussion, the challenge is how to shift Ontario’s investment not only into different housing infrastructure (working with federal and municipal governments to increase the availability of affordable inclusive housing) but also into individualized supports that people with intellectual disabilities need.

The report of the Auditor General shows that only about 10% of current investment supports these types of individualized solutions, and beyond housing, what people are supported to do with their daily lives is also focused on congregated models such as day programs. Making the shift to focus on an included life in the community requires different types of supports with very different outcomes.

LiveWorkPlay is not immune from these challenges, in fact, being fully committed to an assets-based and person-centred approach to community-based outcomes, it can be difficult to secure funding for these approaches and activities.

The challenge: bringing it all together

This is starting to change. More and more individuals and families are accessing Passport dollars, which they can use for housing (and other) supports. However, in isolation this is only a piece of the much larger puzzle. Supports alone can’t provide access to affordable quality housing in welcoming communities, and access to housing does not bring with it the necessary supports for success. This is a cross-sector conversation that needs to include people and organization that are not traditionally involved with Developmental Services or the intellectual disability population.

If that all sounds pie in the sky, bear in mind that MHI is already planning to include people with intellectual disabilities in the Longfields community, and LiveWorkPlay is already working on finding ways to support them. These are the types of partnerships – supported by policies and funding – that will bring all the pieces of the puzzle together and create inclusive housing communities.

While the development of new affordable housing is truly a numbers game that requires significant scaling, support needs are a “one life at a time” process. To understand the type of results such a process can achieve, we leave you with the story of Phil (still being written).