Creatively Aging in Place

28 February 2024

Nowadays, co-op members tend to stay in their homes for decades. Some even claim, “I’m only leaving feet first!”

As a stable membership has many benefits, every co-op should now be thinking about the special needs of their aging members. While the passage of time affects everyone, some are hit harder than others. Many co-ops are already considering the changes they need to make to support members over time—and they are taking concrete actions.

We often hear about longtime members who want to move from the townhouse where they raised their family to a one-bedroom apartment in the co-op that has been their home for so long. They now need less space, their incomes have dropped, and the stairs make their knees hurt. Unfortunately, too few housing co‑ops have one-bedroom apartments.

While the promised co-op development program should provide funds for expansion, or for splitting up larger units, co-ops can take simple steps now to make their elderly members more comfortable. Doorknobs and taps can be replaced with levers, which are easier for arthritic hands. Bathtubs need at least two grab bars and possibly a safety rail, which clamps to the side of the tub. Co-ops can also turn a bathtub into a walk-in shower with cutouts in the tub side, accompanied by an insert that returns it to normal function for future users. Co-ops should consider stronger lightening in entrances and hallways. Every room should have a lighting fixture in the ceiling to ensure that people with failing eyesight can get around their apartment without tripping. 

Two-bedroom units can be renovated to meet the needs of a member now using a wheelchair. The solution is eliminating non-loadbearing walls to create an open-plan environment with enough room to maneuver. Removing these walls may also provide space to enlarge the bathroom. Additional improvements could include an automatic door opener, lowering kitchen and bathroom cabinets, removing cupboard doors and replacing lower shelves with drawers. Non-slip flooring is an essential feature. Rugs, if any, should be secured with double-sided tape. Some one-bedroom units may also be convertible for wheelchair users, depending on the footprint and design.

One co-op found a low-tech solution to the problem of an elderly member repeatedly causing floods by forgetting that water was running in her kitchen or bathroom. The co-op removed all plugs from her sinks, except for one given to the member’s home-care worker, who washes several days of dishes during her biweekly visits. 

Don’t forget that common spaces also need to be accessible. Check walkways and exterior stairs for loose pavers, and consider adding railings. The front door of an apartment-style building should have an automatic opener. And is the door of your co-op office wide enough for a wheelchair? No one should have to discuss their private business in the co-op lobby!

Housing co-operatives have long boasted that they provide more than just a place to live. Changes that enable members to remain in their homes for as long as possible make for a truly inclusive community that offers far more than housing. 

CMHC provide many resources on aging in place, including a valuable list of affordable home modifications, which can be downloaded:

Additionally, CMHC also provides downloadable resources for organizations considering undertaking renovations for accessibility:

Tip of the Month

Capital Plans and Contributions

Comparing 2007 and 2020, we saw the median annual contributions per unit almost triple ($1,026 per unit to $3,052).