Co-op to Offer Alternatives to Aging in Place

Image Lindsay's blog

Image illustrated by Aftab Erfan; Article written by Elisha Kittson

Moving is stressful, no matter what your age. That’s why an emerging trend in co-operatives and co-housing may be an affordable, aging in place solution to support our older adult populations.

“I describe our solution as geographically focused community-based care that will help to revive neighborhoods, says Lindsay Luhnau, co-founder of Calgary’s Ogden area Aging in Place Seniors Cooperative and recent graduate of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Certificate Program for Community Economic Development (CED).

Why an aging in place seniors co-operative?

Luhnau who spent four years as the Communications and Community Liaison for city council in the area, has teamed up with Marianne Wilkat, past president of the Ogden House Seniors recreation club. And the two women developed the co-op model to address a gap in the market.

“For about the last 12 years I’ve tried to bring seniors housing options to the area. But our efforts to offer aging in place alternatives like a seniors housing complex have been challenged by other special interest groups. I think the co-op solution is a good one because the need is so high, and people just don’t want to leave,” shares Wilkat.

Over the past eight months the duo received seed funding for the co-op’s development from SFU’s Social Innovation Challenge and the British Columbia Co-operative Association’s elder care project. So they’re currently exploring a pilot program to showcase the innovative new model. “New model” because what Luhnau and Wilkat have proposed to the community might be a game-changer, but is (not surprisingly) as complex as the social problem it aims to address.

What does the co-op offer members?

There’s a member services offering which includes things like home cleaning, repairs, grocery delivery, doctor house calls, and outings. But also a renovation component to both suite and ‘seniorize’ a member’s single family dwelling. Creating a secondary suite could be an income source, and adding senior-friendly features like a higher toilet, levered door handles, and even swapping out a bathtub for a sit down shower would improve the functionality of homeowner’s living quarters.

One home, one renovation, one member at a time, the co-op’s administrative team would coordinate the process, end-to-end. Helping the member secure a loan if needed for the renovation, from a bank or through an investment co-operative. Taking on the role of property manager in screening tenants, collecting rent payments, and making repairs.

“A member’s initial investment in the renovation would be paid back in dividends within four or five years. Having an official basement suite might allow for a live in care giver. Or maybe having a family without pets, or another senior as a tenant would be the ideal scenario. There are so many wonderful opportunities and combinations depending on individual interests.”

A neighborhood in need of alternative housing solutions 

The concept was presented to approximately 60 seniors at the Ogden House Seniors’ Centre on June 13. Luhnau says she received a solid response to the service offering but that the suiting component would take time to incubate. According to Seth Leon, research officer with the Alberta Community Cooperative Association Luhnau’s entrepreneurial spirit is critical to fostering aging in place alternatives.

“Co-ops are never cookie-cutter,” he says. “Lindsay has a frame of reference from many other successful models but an Ogden co-op will have its own character. A secondary suite is really different. She’s done a great job of connecting a community need with a new and exciting conversation.”

Choosing the neighborhood of Odgen as a pilot for the innovative new concept was insightful. Luhnau says area seniors are actively engaged in their community already and accustom to participating in community projects. With over 360 members, Ogden House Seniors is one of the larger membership-based organizations in the city.

“It’s important they have the chance to stay in the community,” says Ogden House Seniors CEO Alexandra Witczak. “We are the first area to pioneer a resource program for low-income seniors (Filling the Gap). For those who can’t afford to stay in their home aging in place options open new possibility for them to stay in the neighborhood.”

For more information about the Aging in Place Seniors Cooperative contact Luhnau by email



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