Marty Frost

Seniors housing co-op tests the waters in Fort St. James

Nearly 40 people came out to hear about a proposed senior housing co-op in Fort St. James on Nov. 24.

Nearly 40 people came out to hear about a proposed senior housing co-op in Fort St. James on Nov. 24.

The information session at the Seniors Recreation Centre was to help gauge interest in the project proposed for the corner of Third Avenue East and Stuart Drive East.

The idea came about through discussions amongst friends John Horvath and Peter Korpatnisky who live at Chuchi Lake.

Both men thought seniors housing was something the community has a need for after a friend of theirs moved down to Fort from Chuchi when he could no longer take care of himself, and so with this in mind, they purchased the four lots on the corner of Third and Stuart Drive.

Peter Koropatnisky’s brother John Koropatnisky is a partner in the  development company Surrey Healthwise Development Group Ltd., and Peter Koropatnisky asked his brother John and John’s business partner Roy Holman to get involved.

It has been four years in the making to get to this point, and while still preliminary, the meeting was a significant step.

“It was a long, drawn-out series of discussions,” said Holman.

The next step will require the formation of a steering committee to help further define the co-op model the development would use and the needs of area seniors.

After the meeting, seven people agreed to be on the steering committee for the proposed co-op, to help shape its possible future, so Holman said he was hopeful given the good turn out. If not enough people in the community were interested in getting involved, Holman said he is not sure how the project could move forward.

The process of deciding what approach to take and how to best try and address the needs of seniors in the area for housing eliminated a few options the group looked at.

Developing rental units for seniors was decided against because the financing for a rental building is difficult and there is not a great return on these types of rental units, according to Holman.

Building strata developments also have their limitations for the seniors and so does non-profit housing.

“We realized this needed to be more of a community project rather than a commercial project,” said Holman.

So the co-op model was proposed, as a way to provide affordable housing for seniors and give them some control over the facility as well.

“This could really work up here if the people embrace it,” said Holman.

The meeting saw a lot of questions around the co-op model itself, which is unfamiliar to many people, as there are no local co-ops.

Marty Frost, director of the BC Co-operative Association, came up to present to the Fort St. James crowd on the co-op housing model.

While co-ops are a form of incorporation, they are controlled by members equally and democratically for their mutual benefit.

One of the principles Frost emphasized was “a real sense of community,” within co-op housing.

While residents in the co-op would own a membership, they do not own the unit they live in.

Instead the value of the membership or share would be the asset passed on in an estate, and could be used by heirs to move into the facility if eligible or the heir could receive the cash value of the shares.

For more detailed information on how co-ops work, go to www.bcca.coop.

Because it is still at a preliminary stage, the process has a long way to go in order to determine the finer points such as costs and final design of the potential development.

What has been done so far has been with the idea able-bodies seniors can move into the facility and then the facility would support them through to where they are no longer able-bodied.

Architect Paul Rust, has produced some preliminary drawings, taking into consideration things like a covered common area for residents to be able to get outside year round, access to upper and lower units via ramps, so there is wheelchair access to both levels, and an elevator to the upper level. There were also a small bowling alley and in-house theatre included as amenities for the residents.

Suggestions by some people at the meeting included the need for covered parking and increased parking spaces, which were so far limited due to municipal bylaw.

The next steps which were outlined in the meeting were: to identify a steering committee, to get a list of interested people, to contact a co-op housing developer for assistance, to negotiate terms with the current owners, to incorporate the co-op, to recruit and develop the membership, to conduct a feasibility analysis, and  line up the financing, all before construction could begin.

“We hope to have a new facility here in Fort St. James before too many years have gone by,” said Holman.

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