Alberta community welcomes new MVSH seniors’ facility

By Cheryl Long

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The residents of Sundre, Alberta are proving that it takes a community to build a community. By July 2016, the new $26.6-million Mountain View Seniors’ Housing facility is slated to open; a development fueled by a passionate group of citizens who didn’t want to have to leave their community to find appropriate housing as they aged.

A study carried out prior to the project’s launch showed that the current demand for the project’s 104 units, ranging from independent life lease residences to supervised care for people living with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, already exceeds the number being built. “Right now 11 of the 18 life lease units are presold,” said Sam Smalldon, Chief Administrative Officer for Mountain View Seniors’ Housing (MVSH) in a recent interview with Business Elite Canada. “We expect that to be 18 (or 100 percent) on July 1.”

The property’s 46 lodge units, which are replacing the provincially-owned Foothills Lodge in Sundre, are designed for seniors who can live independently but benefit from having meals, housekeeping and laundry services provided for them. Many find the support that comes from living in a community environment beneficial, cutting down on the sense of isolation and vulnerability that some seniors experience living on their own. An additional 40 spaces, which are new to the community, will be made available to those who qualify for 24×7 supportive living care through Alberta Health Services. Those beds will also open up next July and should be filled by late September, Smalldon said. Of those 40 beds, 20 will be allotted to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s who require a secure living environment.

“We’re working on the premise that we’re building to capacity. When the provincial demand is 1,000 beds a year short and we’re trying to fill a portion of that demand with our 40 spaces, we expect transfers will be sent to us very quickly,” he said. Demand for similar housing options is expected to continue over the next 20-plus years as the wave of aging baby boomers reaches its peak. “The rule is to not overbuild. We don’t want vacancies but we have quite a bit of demand yet to satisfy.”

MVSH is a Housing Management Body (HMB) established under the Alberta Housing Act in 1960. The not-for-profit organization covers the rural municipality of Mountain View County, located north of Calgary, and provides housing to residents at rates based on the cost of operation. There are six member municipalities for MVSH as a HMB, including the towns of Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds and Sundre, as well as Mountain View County and the Village of Cremona. Capital grants were applied for and provided by the federal and provincial governments in the amount of $12 million. The balance of the capital was financed through Mountain View Credit Union and Mountain View County.

Under the Alberta HMB model, member municipalities wrote letters of support to the provincial Minister of Housing to back up the risk of borrowing on behalf of the project. Both provincial and municipal funding subsidize operations at approximately 30 percent of rental costs and the remaining 70 percent is the responsibility of the resident. Life lease is the third housing model that is self-sustaining and not subsidized, offering an affordable and independent style of residence situated within the community, Smalldon said.

What is most exciting about the new project is the continuity it will provide to the residents of Sundre, a popular rural retirement community with a higher-than-average number of residents age 75 and older. Under the “campus of care” model, they can move into an independent living unit and as their need for care increases, they have the option of moving into a unit on site that is designed to meet their growing requirements. This will be the first MVSH facility to offer an independent housing option along with multiple levels of care on the same property, eliminating the need for seniors to uproot their lives and move to another city offering 24×7 care in a supportive living facility.

“That’s where our future is; we believe in offering more options for housing,” Smalldon added. “This is a start. We believe in the concept of providing positive, active places for people to live and be happy. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in Sundre for this project.”

The project will culminate in a community inhabited by people of various income and care levels, providing motivation to socialize, stay active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Located in a new subdivision, the community will offer a number of features: bistros ideal for coffee and a game of cards, a fitness room, hair salon, gift shop, medical clinic, a seniors’ drop-in centre and a guest room dedicated to families visiting the community’s residents. Pathways will offer access to nearby stores and a small garage with access to the facility can be used to store and charge outdoor motorized scooters.

“We believe the whole energy of these multiple housing options and multiple housing groups keeps everyone active,” Smalldon said. “The more active they are, the healthier they’ll be and the longer they’ll live. It’s simple and it’s working.”

The eight-acre property has room for expansion, Smalldon explained, providing future space for an additional 40 supportive living care units and 18 life lease residences. Long term, MVSH plans to upgrade their existing lodges within the county to offer campuses with all three housing options based on the pilot project underway in Sundre.

So far it’s been a smooth process, Smalldon said. Just a year after construction began in October 2014, the project was 70-percent complete, putting it both on time and on budget, he explained. He does give some credit to Alberta’s unseasonably mild winter last year that allowed work to continue year-round. But the bulk of his praise goes to the residents of Sundre who expressed their desire for expanded housing options as far back as 2011. As well, member municipalities deserve praise for supporting the new MVSH campus housing model, creating a community with independent living options and 24×7 care space for residents to stay in their locales and within the county.

“Really it was the community that asked for this. The seniors in the community have met with provincial officials, and the town and the county and all the member municipalities worked collaboratively to fill the need,” he said. Sundre’s newest residence will come to fruition “because the community and member municipalities asked for it and stood behind it and now they’re going to live in it.”

“We’re very proud of it and we hope others will learn from it,” Smalldon said. “This is a community-based project that was brought to this community because the community stood up and worked together. It’s just a good project.”

To learn more about Mountain View Seniors’ Housing and the Sundre project, visit