Aging facility in Abbotsford poses difficult situation for residents and Lynnhaven Society

Malcolm Cleaves is 80 years old, but he will start looking for a new home in Kamloops or Penticton, rather than move into a “micro-apartment” to be built near Jubilee Park.

Malcolm Cleaves stands outside the Lynnhaven unit that he has called home for the past 25 years. The 80-year-old veteran says he will not make the move into a downtown apartment building.

Malcolm Cleaves is 80 years old, but he will start looking for a new home in Kamloops or Penticton, rather than move into a “micro-apartment” to be built near Jubilee Park.

He’s among 41 Abbotsford seniors who will be losing their housing on Lynn Avenue, and many aren’t interested in the new low-income facility being built for them downtown on Braun Avenue, featuring 300-square-foot living quarters.

“I won’t stay with them. I’ll go someplace else,” he said.

The housing in the 33000 block of Lynn was originally built by Abbotsford Legion members in the 1950s for people like Cleaves – veterans with limited resources. The homes are duplexes and row houses. The suites are leased and maintained by the non-profit Lynnhaven Society. Over the past 60 years, as the number of veterans dwindled, the society’s mandate has adapted to include all low-income seniors.

Cleaves, an air force veteran, has lived at his modest unit for some 25 years.

“I lived in an apartment in Toronto, and I hated it,” he asserts. “I like a country-ish atmosphere, like it was when we came here.”

He said the new micro-apartments, with built-in furnishings, will not permit him to bring his own furniture, except for perhaps a few pieces.

“You’d probably get away with a chair and a milking stool. And that’s about it.”

Cleaves said much is being made about the convenience of the micro-apartments, being close to downtown. He has had cancer treatment for his eye, and needs kidney dialysis twice a week. Lynnhaven’s walking distance to the hospital is more convenient for him.

But Cleaves doesn’t want a new apartment. He just wants a new roof. His unit has leaked for the past nine years.

“It’s been home,” he says of Lynnhaven. “I would stay here until I die.

“There comes a point in time when you should have a choice.”

His friend, Jean MacFarlane, has lived across the street from since the units were first built. The seniors were like grandparents to her children, she said. They sit together having coffee, putter in their small gardens, and take walks in the neighbourhood. They regularly check on each other, and she does the same.

She feels they are giving up a decent lifestyle for tiny apartment living in a less than desirable area of downtown Abbotsford.

Although she won’t be moving there, she attended information meetings about the new micro-apartment project, along with her neighbours. She said some of them got emotional.

“They have said they won’t walk there (downtown),” she said. “They don’t feel safe.

“What they’re losing is heartbreaking.”

Don Walsh has only been at the Lynn Avenue housing for going on two years, but he is already attached.

“I got comfortable in here almost immediately. We’re a little community in here.”

He has a little larger unit. Originally designed for a couple, he can fit his plush leather couch and chair inside the living room, in front of a big-screen television.

“I was told by the owners that they would be taking me out in a box – I would never have to look for another place to live.”

Walsh has Parkinson’s disease, and had a spinal fusion that gives him severe pain. He has bad falls. He said moving into Lynnhaven taxed his limited financial and physical resources, and he doesn’t want to have to do it again. He talks to other residents who feel the same way.

“There are people in these places that just can’t move,” he asserts. “It’s unfair. Not a person in here wants to move.”

He too, feels that the buildings can be repaired, needing mainly new roofing and eavestroughs.

However, the plan is to be gone in 18 to 24 months.

* * *

With or without a micro-apartment development to replace them, the Lynnhaven Society’s aging units are only years away from being reduced to teardowns, in the opinion of the society’s administrator and the developer who has partnered with the society.

Leona Watts, secretary-manager, said the buildings were constructed economically, with minimal insulation, single-pane windows, and utilitarian building materials. Heating costs alone are $30,000 per year for the 40 units, she said.

The 50-plus-year-old buildings need major work, including new windows, roofing, plumbing and electrical upgrades.

“How do you keep up with that, when you have 40 units and your average rent is $400 per month?”

The society’s plan is to swap its 2.5-hectare site on Lynn for the new Braun Avenue property and a down payment on two four-storey micro-suite buildings. They will carry a mortgage, paid by monthly rents limited to no more than $480.

The new buildings will offer a total of 64 apartments, for those aged 55 and older.

“Micro” may be an unattractive word for living accommodations, but the developer says the units are popular in Europe, and a similar development has been tried in Victoria.

David Algra, of Algra Brothers Developments, is a local builder who has recently been involved in the Garrison Crossing subdivision in Chilliwack. He has partnered with Lynnhaven on the $6.4-million project. He sees it as an innovative solution to housing low-income baby boomers.

“We’re going to run into a big issue housing seniors in the next 10 to 15 years,” Algra predicts.

He said Canada Mortgage and Housing and other government agencies are watching this project.

“I hope we can set a good precedent.”

His company has researched how to maximize the 300 square feet of living space, with built-in furniture, two-burner stoves, narrower fridges and generally smaller appliances. Algra said his floor plan will “live like” a 450-square-foot apartment.

Each of the units will be air conditioned, and contain laundry and a dishwasher – amenities the residents don’t currently have.

There will be four large outside “living areas” for socializing, and raised gardens. Each unit will also have a covered deck.

He hopes to begin construction in  this spring, pending city approval.

Looking at the aging units on Lynn Avenue, with their dirt crawl spaces and leaking roofs, Algra said they do not have a lot of life left in them.

“You have to modernize at some point in time.”

Watts agrees.

“If we do not do this, I will guess in two to five years we will cease to exist.”

She is already seeing the demand for affordable seniors’ housing, and looks forward to getting rid of her year-long waiting list.

“How do you tell a senior who is low income that they have to wait a year for a place?”

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