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New living option for Calgary seniors brings them closer to family

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Seniors looking to downsize now have another option where they won't need to move into a condominium, apartment or senior care facility.

Garden Lofts are stand alone, prefabricated backyard suite with a goal of keeping aging parents next door to their loved ones.

John Brown, co-founder of Garden Loft, says the premise began at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine. Members of a home health project had contacted the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape where Brown is the dean and a professor.

"We just see this as such an important offering for families to be able to help their loved ones to grow old gracefully, together in a decent and dignified manner," said Brown.

Brown says he and his team were looking for an option where seniors and their families could interact as neighbours rather than roommates, allowing everyone to maintain their independence. The suites were designed to embrace a supported living environment.

"For example, a floor that helps prevent injuries from a fall and up-down counters and safety lighting," explained Brown. "All of those things that enable someone with diminished capacity to continue to live independently and (with) a high quality of life."

Brown says the City of Calgary has been supportive with the initiative.

It takes about three months to secure a building permit, then another four months to build the loft off site. All in, the cost is around $300,000, but the suites are not permanent structures so, when it's no longer needed, it can be sold and moved to a new property.

"That adds a big cost advantage to this because, instead of doing a permanent secondary suite or renting every month in a care facility, you're making an investment in an asset that, when you don't need it any longer, you can resell and recoup that."

Robin McQueen just moved her mom Pat into a Garden Loft in her back yard in December. She says when her mom needed to downsize from her home in St. Albert this was the best solution.

"Not everybody wants to live in a condo," said McQueen. "Not everybody wants to live in a senior's residence.

"The wonderful thing about this is it maintains that independence but also there's that assistance if it's needed so choice is key."

Pat McQueen is 85 years old and has embraced her new living arrangement, knowing it was time to downsize.

"I liked the layout," said the senior. "It took a little bit of getting used to because my kitchen was five-times the size of this but it's coming along."

Pat says she enjoys watching the sunrise out her front window every morning. The loft has a living room next to a kitchen, her bedroom is through a sliding doorway and then the combination bathroom and laundry room is at the far end.

"One of the things I really liked about this place is I like to be alone quite often and this facilitates it just beautifully. I am on my own and yet I'm pampered. It's just great."

The new loft has gained a lot of attention in the neighbourhood with many people stopping to look and take pictures.

"I think we're going to need a lot more choice for senior housing," said Robin. "I think the choice needed to be there even before the pandemic, but I think the pandemic really highlighted that we need some more choices for our seniors in our communities as well."

Brown says the financial model of the Garden Loft makes it an investment rather than having nothing to show after renting in a retirement facility.

"The real cost advantage here comes when you compare it to renting," said Brown. "The median rent for a lodge or retirement home for a one bedroom in Calgary is $4,200 a month. You take that out over a year, it's $53,000. Over five years, you're looking at almost $300,000, which is getting pretty much the cost of a Garden Loft."

More information on the suites can be found at Garden Loft

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