Tag: social housing edmonton
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.”
When Mesert first arrived in Edmonton from Ethiopia, she didn’t think there would be much of a language barrier. She had learned English before immigrating and was confident integrating wouldn’t be a problem. There was one thing she didn’t account for in the language barrier though.
“I couldn’t understand anyone’s accents!” Mesert explains. “I called my brothers and told them that I didn’t think I could stay in Canada because everyone was so hard to understand.”
It took Masert about six months before she became comfortable with listening to Canadian accents. Even when she got her job with GEF Seniors Housing, she still struggled with understanding what to do, especially in emergency situations. Eventually, she learned that GEF Seniors Housing offers English classes at no cost to its staff. She didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to improve her English skills.
GEF Seniors Housing has been providing the English classes to its staff since 2014. Partial funding for the program is provided to GEF Seniors Housing by the Canada Alberta Job Grant, which provides grants for training programs that focus on improving employment skills.
Miss Hofman used to teach for Edmonton Public Schools and now helps 49 employees with their English skills at six GEF Seniors Housing sites across the city. Hofman points out that of all the site staff she works with, the group who meets at the Virginia Park lodge every Monday is one of the most culturally diverse.
“We have women from Somalia, Cambodia, Colombia, and Ethiopia in the same class learning to master what can be a confusing Canadian language and culture,” says Hofman. “Having such a diverse group connecting, all striving to improve their English and seeing their lives slowly become a tad easier is personally very satisfying.”
Even though the women in the class are all from different parts of the world, the challenges each of them face in mastering English is the same. From pronunciation to understanding the differences between past, present and future tenses, the group works through each challenge together often using examples from what they’ve encountered in their daily lives and on the job with GEF Seniors Housing.
The group at Virginia Park lodge has been getting together for close to four years now and lessons can range from discussing events at work and how to talk about them to tasks that can be more daunting such as booking appointments over the phone.
“One time my assignment in class was to phone for a medical appointment. The lady who answered hung up on me,” recalls Mesert. “So we went right back to our script to practice some more. When I called back before the end of class the lady understood me and I booked my appointment!”
The most notable change in the students is their increased confidence. They are no longer shy about asking people to repeat things or to use different words so they can understand better. Even booking appointments over the phone has become an easier task for the group members.
“My son is very good at English, but there was one time when he would not call the eye doctor to book an appointment,” recalls Marta, a class member who works at Beverly Place. “Finally, I just took the phone and booked it for him. It took no time at all and when I was done, I looked at my son and said, ‘See! It’s easy!’”
The combination of confidence and the ability to better communicate with other Canadians (including the seniors they work with every day) demonstrate how important these continued English classes are for staff at GEF Seniors Housing. The close-knit dynamic of the group helps students better understand the lessons and how to apply them in day to day situations. For some, the traditional classroom setting wouldn’t be as beneficial as the small, once a week classes during the workday are.
“When Miss Hofman is speaking, I can look at her across the table and understand what she means better because I can see the expression on her face. She knows I try hard and am learning.” says Marta. “I tell my friends that GEF Seniors Housing gives us free English lessons and they’re shocked. I’ve never worked anywhere else where they would do something like this for their staff.”
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 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.”
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.
A man sits on a workbench next to a construction site. He wipes the sweat off of his brow and stares up at the beaming hot July sun. He’s been working all day and has five more days on this job site. He laughs as he takes a sip from his water bottle.
“Back in Pakistan, this heat is nothing,” he says. “It feels hot because in Edmonton, we’re at a higher elevation, so we’re closer to the sun. But Pakistan has hot, gusting winds that you never get here.”
He’s a father of three currently renting an apartment in North Edmonton. The construction site is in south east Edmonton and the bus ride takes him an hour and a half one-way. He landed in Edmonton five years ago looking for a better life for his family. He looks down into the dug up pit, with the first bit of concrete foundation of what will soon be the first home he’ll own in Edmonton.
“In Pakistan, the power goes out, the gas goes out and you can’t cook for your family,” he explains. “I’m so happy to be here in Edmonton.”
He’ll be the proud owner of one of the 58 homes being built by the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, one of the largest Habitat for Humanity projects ever to be hosted in Edmonton. Members of the GEF Seniors Housing staff worked alongside the former United States President and other dignitaries such as Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and country music stars Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and Eric Paslay.
Sheridan Kleininger, Communications Assistant with GEF Seniors Housing, has worked on volunteer build projects in the past. “I helped build a home in Ecuador,” she says. “That was an amazing experience, of course, but it’s different when you’re working on something that’s in your hometown.”
Upwards of 900 volunteers worked on the South Edmonton project near the Meadows Community Recreation Centre in the Silver Berry community. The volunteers consisted of locals from different organizations such as the Alberta Seniors Community and Housing Association (ASCHA) and the Alberta Ministry of Seniors and Housing as well as international volunteers from all over the United States who are committed to former President Carter’s mission of building affordable housing for those who need it most.
The GEF Seniors Housing team worked on a block of three row houses that just had its first bit of concrete foundation floors built. The crew’s task for the day was to build up the Styrofoam walls where the concrete for the foundation walls are poured. The GEF Seniors Housing team worked with the ASCHA team, the Alberta Ministry of Seniors and Housing team, and two of the future homeowners. GEF Seniors Housing Public Relations Manager Christopher Schieman explains that having the homeowners as part of the volunteer team acted as a big motivator.
“There were times where it felt like the sun was cooking me alive and I was so out of breath I didn’t think I could keep going,” says Schieman. “But then I would look over to the homeowners, working like crazy, and I would remember that this isn’t about me. It’s about them, their families, and about how every Edmontonian deserves to have an affordable home.”
The homeowners won’t be taking possession of their new homes until July of 2019. Even with the move-in date seemingly so far away, the homeowners still see a positive in everything.
“The LRT will probably be done by the time we move in, so I won’t have to commute on bus for an hour and a half anymore,” one homeowner says with a laugh. “This will be a place I own, though. That is very important to me. I’m so grateful that all of these people are helping.”