Applications for Sakaw Terrace are officially open. This comes on the heels of a great deal of anticipation from both the community at large and from GEF Seniors Housing. CEO Raymond Swonek explains that he’s been eager for the applications to open to the public and begin the process for seniors to be able to call Sakaw Terrace home.
“Between the phone calls we receive here at the offices every day, the engagement we see on social media, and the excitement we’ve seen at the events promoting Sakaw Terrace, we know opening these applications couldn’t have come soon enough,” says Swonek. “The Mill Woods community has wanted a building like Sakaw Terrace for a long time and we’re going to deliver on a building for seniors that’s unlike anything else in the neighbourhood.”
GEF Seniors Housing staff will collect application forms over the next three months, compiling a list of all the qualified applicants. On May 8, 2018, a lottery draw will be held at the Mill Woods Seniors Association (second floor, 2610 Hewes Way, Edmonton) to determine who will be first to be interviewed. For previous building openings, GEF Seniors Housing has used the lottery system for applicants as a means of making sure the entire process is fair to everyone involved.
“The building has 158 suites and we’re expecting many more applications than that over the next three months,” says Swonek. “With such a huge demand for the building, we want to ensure that everyone who applies has an equal chance of being able to move in once the building opens.”
After the applicants are chosen from the lottery, they’ll be scheduled for an in-person interview followed by a letter either accepting or declining the application.
GEF Seniors Housing will be handling all applications for Sakaw Terrace’s early 2019 opening for both the lodge and the apartment programs. Applications and the brochure explaining Sakaw Terrace’s housing programs will be available at all GEF Seniors lodge sites and at the Mill Woods Seniors Association, where members of the GEF Seniors Housing team will be available on a few select dates in February over the noon hour to answer questions and accept applications.
For Sakaw Terrace, it’s more important than ever to have the knowledgeable GEF Seniors Housing staff available to go over the new housing programs available.
“Sakaw Terrace will be the first GEF Seniors Housing building to offer market level apartments and lodges to seniors at any income level,” explains Swonek. “We’re still offering affordable options as well to qualified seniors. Having both market level and affordable options is important because we want Sakaw Terrace to be available to as many seniors as possible.”
The building team led by Chandos Construction continues to make huge strides on the Sakaw Terrace project. With the construction team working so closely with GEF Seniors Housing, the scheduling and the budgeting for the building can be kept in close check, ensuring Sakaw Terrace is completed on time and on budget. Swonek is exhilarated with the progress made on Sakaw Terrace in such a short time and is proud of how well GEF Seniors Housing has worked with the construction team.
“The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model used for Sakaw Terrace pushed everyone, from the architects to the sub-contractors, to work as efficiently as possible without sacrificing any quality,” says Swonek. “All 900 people who have worked on Sakaw Terrace have done an amazing job on this building so far and I know Sakaw Terrace will set a new standard not just for GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings, but for seniors housing buildings all over Alberta.”
Bob Baldwin completed the Glenrose Hospital’s Short Term Assessment Rehabilitation and Treatment program close to seven years ago. The twenty-week program saw Baldwin attending discussion groups and presentations on memory, relaxation, visualization, depression, panic attacks, and other cognitive and mental health issues. Throughout the program, he made close ties with other participants with whom he connected because they were all seniors and all living with different mental health conditions. As the program was coming to a close, he realized that the work he had begun with the START program should not just end.
“The way the program ends is shuttering and kind of cold turkey,” says Baldwin. He explains that for some, the program ending sees a significant rise in the same mental health conditions they experienced before the program. “The contrast between how good you felt at the START program and then going back to living without it was really bad for some people.”
Realizing that easing off of a mental health support program would be better than simply ending, Baldwin and other friends he had made through the START program began exploring various seniors associations and recreation centres to see what existed to continue the mental health support work. Quickly he realized none existed. “We circled around the city and ended up right back at the Glenrose Hospital,” Baldwin says with a laugh. “That’s when it became clear that we needed to create this support group for ourselves.”
Leaning on his experience in leadership and organizing from his career as a teacher, Baldwin got help from the Glenrose to form START Plus. The staff at the hospital recognized the importance of building on the foundation that had been put in place by the START program and of having it organized and administered by the very people seeking the peer support. At its largest, START Plus had between 12 to 15 seniors regularly attending the Wednesday morning meetings. Finding a permanent home for the meetings proved to be a whole new challenge for the group.
“We would meet at the Glenrose, and we moved all around the building trying to find somewhere private and quiet to hold the meetings,” recalls Baldwin. “But we realized that we would have to find somewhere different to hold our meetings if this group were to be successful.”
One of the group’s members, Marlene Jones, immediately thought of her apartment building as a good venue for the regular meetings. She has lived at Strathcona Place for the past seven years, and remembered there was a large boardroom up on the ninth floor perfect for holding private meetings. The group has been happy in this space ever since, continuing the regular meetings and even having special guests attend, such as the Alberta Seniors Advocate, Dr. Sheree Kwong See.
With the group flourishing in its meetings, the members have grown incredibly close, being able to contact each other outside of the meetings and even creating memorial plans for each other as they face the inevitability of members passing on. The group decided that (if the individual member chooses to do so) as members pass on, they would have stars placed up in the Telus World of Science in remembrance.
“There’s a connectedness to this group; even if the members aren’t around, you know you’re connected to them,” says Jones. “The group has helped break isolation, encouraged us to reconnect, and made us interested in being a part of our communities.”
The mission of START Plus can be summarized as socializing, supporting, and providing a safe place in which to talk. What’s shared amongst the group stays with the group. The trust among the members is paramount to the group’s success, and the regularity of the meetings assures them that when they need it, there will be an ear — actually many ears — to listen.
“Even if there are only two people, we’ll have a meeting,” says Jones. “There would be a lot of disappointment if a meeting were cancelled. It gives us a sense of purpose and adds to our quality of life.”
Baldwin echoes Jones’ sentiment about START Plus giving the members of the group a sense of purpose. As the group selectively looks for new members (many of whom are from the START program at the Glenrose Hospital as well) and stands ready to help establish other groups with a similar mission, Baldwin reflects on why he continues to work so diligently on this group.
“I often get asked why I put so much time into START Plus,” says Baldwin. “It’s really not an onerous job and it gives me a sense of purpose. It’s something to look forward to. There are plenty of Wednesdays when I think ‘I’d rather stay in bed.’ I’m happy, though, every time I make the effort to come out to talk, give some support, and meet with ‘my second family.’”
The teams at Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine have once again named GEF Seniors Housing one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). The staff at GEF Seniors Housing all took a survey expressing their opinions on what it’s like to work with the organization, what they enjoy most, and what they would change about it. For Director of Human Resources Tracy MacLeod, seeing so many of the GEF Seniors Housing staff engaged with giving feedback about where they work is very important.
“Any feedback, good or not so good, is always valuable,” says MacLeod. “The good keeps us motivated and pushing forward, and the not so good lets us know where we can do better. No one is perfect and the more we hear about where we can do better, the more we can do for the staff who work with us.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s efforts for its staff are clearly reflected in the survey’s results. The Foundation was placed in the Platinum category, the highest designation any organization can receive when being named on the BSME list. Other groups on the list include Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada Inc., Grantek Systems Integration Ltd., and the Berkeley Retirement Residences.
“There are some amazing organizations named on this list,” says MacLeod. “It’s an honour to see GEF Seniors Housing’s name printed right alongside them. It helps validate all the hard work we do to ensure that the people who work here, like working here and keep coming to work feeling positive.”
This is the ninth year that GEF Seniors Housing has been named on this list. Each year, GEF Seniors Housing is able to take the survey results and analyze them to see where to the focus the year’s efforts on improvements. Survey results have been improving from year to year and the people who make up the team at GEF Seniors Housing all take having a positive working environment very seriously.
For the staff at GEF Seniors Housing, being named BSME means more than just being on a list. The sense of pride throughout the organization when this designation is announced is tangible Everyone, from the front line staff right up to the CEO, is very clearly proud of this annual accomplishment.
“It’s a reminder of how invested we all are in making sure we’re improving the lives of the seniors who call our buildings home,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This is an incredible achievement for all of GEF Seniors Housing!”
After nearly five years of renovations, Canora Gardens (10160 151 Street, Edmonton) will be opening its doors in early 2018. The $13 million renovation project saw GEF Seniors Housing collaborate with The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design as the designer and Emcee Construction as the general contractors. The team opened Canora Gardens up, tearing everything down right to the studs and rebuilt from the main foundation. The building itself now features 98 suites that have been redesigned to be better suited for seniors living.
“Once Canora Gardens is done, it will be like a whole new building,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “I’ve been really proud of the team who not only have been rebuilding Canora Gardens but modernizing it as well.”
The renovation project began as a reaction to a fire that spread through much of the building’s second floor. Upon inspection of the damage, Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar could see how much smoke damage there was throughout the entire building.
“We opened up a couple of walls and we could clearly see the extent of the smoke damage,” says Kitlar. “It was a tragic situation for the whole building and the people living in it. The building was going to need a lot of work for the renovations but I knew with the right kind of renovation plan, we could turn this into an opportunity for something extremely positive.”
Throughout the Canora Gardens rebuild site, signs of bringing the building out of its original 1977 construction date and into 2017’s higher standards to residential buildings is evident all over. The building will feature better lighting, new interior finishes, improved common area spaces, a sprinkler system, and new energy efficient mechanical systems. For Kitlar, he’s proud of the mechanical and structural upgrades to the building, but there’s one facet that he’s especially excited about.
“We redesigned each of the suites so they function better for seniors,” says Kitlar. “We moved a few walls, flipped some floor plans, and were able to make the suites more conducive to the unique facets of seniors living without losing any suites. I am especially proud that we were able to keep the seniors who will live in the building so front of mind during this whole process.”
Applications are open now for Canora Gardens and the rooms are filling fast for the early 2018 opening. For Swonek, the excitement in the new tenants already approved to move in and from the community as a whole needing more affordable seniors housing options shows that Canora Gardens is a building to be proud of and filling a big need on Edmonton’s west-end.
“I visited the build site often during construction because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”
A little over a year ago, GEF Seniors Housing broke ground on Sakaw Terrace, the newest affordable seniors housing project for the organization and the first for the Mill Woods neighbourhood. The event was celebrated with appearances from Edmonton Ward 12 City Councillor Mohinder Banga, Provincial Minister of Labour Christina Grey, Provincial Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson, and with a message from the office of Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.
For GEF Seniors Housing Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar, the progress made on Sakaw Terrace over the past year has even surpassed his expectations. He explains that with the designers at RPK Architects and the contractors at Chandos all being invested in the project along with GEF Seniors Housing, the team is working collaboratively to find more efficiencies and creative ways to reduce unnecessary spending without compromising the overall building.
“Sakaw Terrace is being built on what’s called an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD),” says Kitlar. “What this basically means is that everyone has some skin in the game. The IPD contract has ten parties signed on plus GEF Seniors Housing. All ten of the IPD parties have put their profits on the line for the duration of the construction, which keeps everyone invested in finding those efficiencies and keeping everything on schedule. If the project comes in under budget, the IPD parties share in those profits. If the project comes in over budget, all parties share in those extra costs out of their profits.”
With an opening date pending in late 2018, keeping Sakaw Terrace on schedule has been of significant importance to Kitlar. He explains that the project did see some setbacks in its first year, including issues with the soil conditions at the building’s location.
“The soil at the Sakaw Terrace site is very moist mostly due to the fact we had a lot of rain over the summer” says Kitlar. “We had to dig deeper than anticipated in a few areas to find solid ground to build on, but the IPD process has brought everyone together to find solutions that don’t compromise the building. Despite the challenges we’ve had, Sakaw Terrace has seen plenty of steady progress.”
The structural steel is completed and concrete flooring has all been poured, giving Sakaw Terrace its shape and structure. The driveway down to the underground parking lot has been poured and the asphalt that will eventually act as the above ground parking has been laid and is currently being used for construction vehicles to carry in supplies.
Throughout the entire progress of the Sakaw Terrace project so far, Kitlar works to keep in mind who the building is for and why it’s so important to the community. The number of seniors living in the Mill Woods community sits around 20,000 and many are in need of affordable housing options that simply don’t exist right now in the neighbourhood.
“Sakaw Terrace will have 158 units, obviously not enough to address the entire need in the Mill Woods community, but enough to get the ball rolling and start some big conversations about this need that really isn’t exclusive to Edmonton’s south,” says Kitlar. “I’ve yet to go through an Edmonton neighbourhood that wouldn’t benefit with some affordable housing options, be it for seniors or families. The need is so obviously there and hopefully Sakaw Terrace can demonstrate a really good solution to keep addressing this need.”
A term that’s being used a lot during conversations about Sakaw Terrace is “mixed market housing.” What this term actually means could change a lot about how affordable housing projects are approached in Edmonton. GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek first encountered this idea while touring around different affordable housing buildings in England.
“This model of housing is actually fairly common in England, and there’s a good reason why,” says Swonek. “The housing organizations in England are some of the most stable and well-functioning I’ve ever seen and a lot of that comes from implementing this housing model.”
For Sakaw Terrace, the mixed market housing will see 70 per cent of suites be designated for seniors living on a low- to moderate-income and pricing will be based either on the seniors’ income or set at 15 per cent below market value, like at Ottewell Terrace. The other 30 per cent of suites will be priced at a market value and will be available to any senior.
Where the benefit of this housing mix comes in is that the money from the 30 per cent of market value suites then goes back into the operations of Sakaw Terrace entirely, making it more financially sustainable and less dependent on public funding. The money GEF Seniors Housing is generating by using this model can then be reinvested into other parts of the organization for the benefit of the seniors.
The mixed market housing approach has proven so successful in case studies from other parts of the world that the Province of Alberta actually included it as staple part of its major housing strategy in 2017. For Swonek, this is a strong sign that his vision for the future of GEF Seniors Housing is headed in the right direction.
“Some of the housing organizations I’ve seen implement a mixed market housing approach have generated surpluses that they’ve been able to invest back into their organizations,” says Swonek. “The fact that the Province of Alberta has included this approach to affordable housing in its housing strategy shows that it sees what I’ve seen and it’s willing to try something that’s never been done before in Alberta.”
Once Sakaw Terrace opens its doors in 2018, it will be the first affordable seniors housing building in Alberta to implement the mixed market housing approach. With full confidence in this housing model, Swonek is already discussing how it will look in the future Elmwood project.
“This is what the future of affordable housing looks like and is the best and most sustainable approach to seeing more people helped with the affordable housing options that they so desperately need,” says Swonek. “I have no doubts that Sakaw Terrace’s implementation of mixed market housing will be a huge success and set a new standard for affordable housing in Alberta.”
On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, members of the GEF Seniors Housing Board of Directors and Senior Management team are setting up displays of the current conceptual drawings for the new building project on Edmonton’s west end in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Elmwood Community Hall (16415 83 Ave.), the community consultation meeting will ask three very important questions to people currently living in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas: What should this new addition to your community be named? What do you like about the building drawings? What would you change with what you see in the building drawings?
“One of the most important processes we always go through with any new building project is to have at least three community consultations,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This will be the second meeting we hold with the Elmwood community and surrounding areas, who have shown a lot of support for this new building project.”
The conceptual drawings were done by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects, the architectural firm behind previous GEF Seniors Housing buildings such as Sakaw Terrace and Ottewell Terrace. Swonek explains that showing the drawings will help spur conversations from the community members attending the meeting, which will then in turn help give some direction to GEF Seniors Housing as to how the building will add value to the community.
“Some of the most interesting concepts we’ve integrated into our buildings have come from the conversations we’ve had with community members,” says Swonek. “Ottewell Terrace including Primrose Place Family Centre daycare into the building was a direct result of conversations we had with the Ottewell community. The ingenuity that came from the community members was invaluable to us and helped create one of the first seniors housing buildings with a permanent daycare centre in Alberta. It also spurred intergenerational programming that has been highly beneficial to both the seniors living in the building and the children at the daycare centre. We know that this level of collaboration will bring about creative innovations for Elmwood.”
Once this second community consultation is complete, a third meeting will be scheduled to display the final details around the future building plus give some details for the construction work plan. Though Swonek is always looking ahead to the next steps in any project, he remains enthusiastic over the next community meeting with the Elmwood area and is excited to see what ideas the people from the neighbourhoods bring.
“Last time we held a community consultation for Elmwood, we were expecting maybe 30 people to attend and more than 100 came and was part of one of the liveliest community conversations I ever got to be a part of,” says Swonek. “We know the need on the west end is great and it’s only growing. We’re taking all the lessons learned from previous projects like Ottewell Terrace and Sakaw Terrace and applying them to the Elmwood project, ensuring that the building we construct in the area is a welcome addition to the community.”
November is Housing Month, a reminder of how important an issue housing is for everyone and how many challenges a lot of people face when trying to find somewhere affordable and accessible to call home. Young adults, families, and seniors are all affected by the rising housing costs in Edmonton. Government at all levels have realized that housing is a growing issue for many people and are committing new funds and programs to help address these issues. Despite the growing efforts, many people still struggle with simple necessities that so many take for granted.
“If you spend more than 30 per cent of your gross monthly income on housing, you’re considered below the poverty line,” say GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. GEF Seniors Housing is just one organization participating in Housing Month efforts and activities to promote the need for more affordable housing in Edmonton.
“For many Edmontonians, spending only 30 per cent of their income on housing seems like an impossible dream. We serve low-income seniors and offer them affordable housing options. We know the need in Edmonton is great, so we take part in Housing Month to help make sure no one ever has to worry about where they will call home.”
Housing Month started in Toronto with National Housing Day back in 1998. The City of Toronto called out to other municipalities to join them in recognizing the need for affordable housing options in their cities. The City of Edmonton decided to expand on the idea of National Housing Day into a whole month of events, promotions, and publications to educate and inform what affordable and social housing is, how affordable and social housing programs benefit neighbourhoods, and how individuals and communities can help housing organizations serve the people who need the help most.
GEF Seniors Housing is working with the City of Edmonton and other housing organizations such as Homeward Trust, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative, and Capital Region Housing Corporation on a campaign to spur discussions around affordable housing in Edmonton, how to bring more affordable housing to different Edmonton communities, and what steps should be taken to help see more affordable housing projects break ground. Housing Month’s campaign also includes the National Housing Day Luncheon, hosted by Homeward Trust, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel.
“The partnerships we have with the other housing organizations for Housing Month is part of what makes this campaign so strong,” says Swonek. “Every one of these groups does amazing work in this city and is committed to seeing more affordable housing options available to Edmontonians who are in need. I’m so proud to be part of a city and a community that takes housing so seriously.”
Housing Month seeks to highlight current affordable housing projects being built around Edmonton, showcase current affordable housing buildings already established in the city, and to exhibit much of the progress made from the support of all levels of governments. Though Housing Month is driven by the City of Edmonton, the Provincial Government and the Federal Government both have worked on major housing strategies that have benefited Edmonton greatly and even started releasing funds already so that housing organizations can begin work on creating new homes.
“I’m optimistic about the future of housing when I see how much all these different organizations and different governmental bodies are all collaborating with this common goal,” says Swonek. “Housing Month displays so much of the progress we’ve made over the years. I’m excited for more communities to become invested in affordable housing and Housing Month is the perfect way to make those connections and build that support.”
For GEF Seniors Housing, the Edmonton Municipal Election started on September 12, 2017, when 25 of the candidates for City Council met with members of the Board of Directors and Seniors Management team over breakfast at McQueen Place. After CEO Raymond Swonek’s presentation provided an overview as to who GEF Seniors Housing is and how the Foundation adds value to communities, the candidates asked engaging questions and expressed their support for the Foundation’s mission.
In the weeks following the breakfast meeting, the candidates took to visiting GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings all throughout the city, totalling well over thirty formal visits through eight Wards. Some of the visits were even formatted as full panel discussions with a range of different candidates all running in the same Ward, sharing their platforms and answering questions.
Through many of the meetings, there was a clear support for addressing several issues faced around seniors and social housing. As the new Edmonton City Council takes shape, GEF Seniors Housing is excited to continue its working relationship with the City of Edmonton and is looking forward to seeing what new opportunities arise from strong collaboration.
Thank you to all the candidates who ran during this election for your visits to GEF Seniors Housing buildings. The conversations brought to light many of the issues seniors face every day and helped spur a lot of creative ideas to help improve the quality of life for seniors in Edmonton.
Congratulations to Mayor Don Iveson on a successful campaign to be re-elected. We’re looking forward to your second term as Edmonton’s Mayor.
Congratulations to all of the incumbent City Councillors taking your seats once again for another four years in office. We’re looking forward to continuing our strong relationships in your communities.
Lastly, congratulations to the new City Councillors: Jon Dziadyk (Ward 3), Aaron Pacquette (Ward 4), Sarah Hamilton (Ward 5), and Tim Cartmell (Ward 9). We’re looking forward to working with you on new projects and helping to make sure no senior ever has to worry about where they will call home.
With new capital projects moving forward such as Sakaw Terrace, Elmwood Terrace, and the redevelopment of Strathcona Place, GEF Seniors Housing knows it has allies in Edmonton’s City Council, sharing a vision of accessible and affordable housing options for everyone.
Ruth Belford remembers sitting at a bus stop in central Edmonton, where she’s lived almost her entire life. She explains that she looked across the street and saw two older homeless gentlemen sitting on a bench one cold winter day. It was what the two gentlemen were wearing that caught Belford’s attention.
“I looked across the street and I’m thinking, there’s two of my toques,” Belford says with a smile. “That was for me [the moment I realized] that’s where they’re supposed to go. And there they were, right across the street.”
Belford lives at Ansgar Villa where she’s a part of a knitting group that gets together a few times a week to share knitting tips, try out new patterns, and socialize with her neighbours in the building. In fact, almost every GEF Seniors Housing building has a knitting club and each year the clubs combine everything they’ve made throughout the year and donate the items to local charities. In 2016, more than 5,000 items were donated to charities across Edmonton and 2017 is shaping up to see an even bigger donation out to the charities serving the communities who need it most.
Dubbed the Great Knitting Giveaway, the knitting clubs gather together each year for a meal and to hear presentations from the charities receiving the donations. This year’s event, taking place on October 20, will feature presentations from organizations such as Operation Friendship Seniors Society, Youth Empowerment and Support Services, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Mustard Seed. Item donated range from scarves and gloves for adults and kids to toques for newborns. Previous years even included knitted dolls for newly landed refugee children and nests for animals needing rehabilitation.
The event acts as a reminder to the seniors who spend the whole year knitting that their efforts are going towards something important and that their contributions are both needed and appreciated. Sitting with other knitting clubs from around GEF Seniors Housing and seeing thousands of unique knitted items from other groups helps spur creativity in the knitters and prompts them to try new things when they reconvene for their regular knitting clubs.
For Belford, attending the Great Knitting Giveaway event reinvigorates her desire to keep contributing to the communities who need the things that she and her knitting club create. She describes the excitement she feels when she goes into the event space and sees the piles of toques, mittens, scarves, and blankets all going to people who need them. “It makes you want to go home and just knit!”