“In talking with CLS we realized how closely their values mirror the seven co-op principles, particularly in terms of dignity, accountability and ensuring people felt included,” said Michelle Cooper-Iversen, CHF BC’s Chief Operating Officer.
Since 2020, six clients of Community Living Society (CLS) have moved into the Fraserview Housing Co-op, where they’ve become integral members of the community. Now, CLS and the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC (CHF BC) are looking for ways to expand the model so that CLS clients can move into well-established co-ops throughout the Lower Mainland.
The two organizations initiated their conversations in 2017. CLS – which supports adults with developmental disabilities and their families with a variety of housing options, employment and training, and other services – had been hearing from their clients that they wanted to live more independently.
“Our feedback was really raising the fact that the opportunities most people have with the experience of moving out of their childhood home, having the opportunity to live more independently, wasn’t available for the people we support who could live independently but were just not able to afford it,” said Gillian Rhodes, CLS’ Chief Operating Officer.
CHF BC had been unaware of the need for affordable housing within the community living sphere but quickly discovered a mission-aligned organization in CLS.
“In talking with CLS we realized how closely their values mirror the seven co-op principles, particularly in terms of dignity, accountability and ensuring people felt included,” said Michelle Cooper-Iversen, CHF BC’s Chief Operating Officer. With an established foundation of inclusion and respect between the two organizations, forming a working partnership was straightforward and informed by open and honest discussions.
CLS’s mission is to support individuals with developmental disabilities to live full lives, and integrate fully into their communities. “Our aim was to support the integration of semi-independent adults into co-ops where we see a lot of alignment and potential,” said Rhodes.
The two organizations determined the best approach for the pilot project would be to connect CLS clients who would be able to live independently with minimal supports with stable, affordable homes in a new co-op that would be growing its community from the ground up. The agreement struck in 2018 was to include one-bedroom homes in each new Community Land Trust building; the exact number would depend on the size of the development, and started with the Fraserview Housing Co-op.
Brenda Henderson, CLS’s Director of Programs, stepped in to help oversee the logistics of putting the agreement into action, and in selecting the CLS clients. CLS selected clients who were willing to accept ongoing supports, usually about five to 10 hours per week, while CHF BC was able to meet with the individuals to ensure they’d be a good fit with the co-op.
“The fit is huge for us,” said Henderson. “We wanted to make sure we know the people ahead of a placement within a co-op” and who were keen to be included in the co-op’s community environment.
“We look at people who might blossom in that type of environment,” added Rhodes. “People who like that social aspect, or could be pulled out of their shell a little bit.”
The CLS clients moved into Fraserview in the summer of 2020 and by all accounts are loving their new homes.
For Dickson, Fraserview is his first home away from home and has discovered that living alone doesn’t feel lonely when you have the support of a strong community around you. “His biggest goal is cooking – he learns a new recipe every week,” said Henderson – a big relief for his mom, who was concerned about how he’d manage certain life skills on his own.
Akim lives by a set of principles that are helping him achieve his dreams of one day becoming a photographer. “Become the best version of yourself every single day,” Akim described in a CLS video. “Chase your dreams, stay focused, and never give up.”
Cheryl was the first CLS client and, in fact, first building resident to move into Fraserview in August 2020. She was thrilled to have the building all to herself, and with basic cleaning support and help with navigating the emotional impact of COVID-19, she’s been able to establish strong connections at the co-op.
“I had the pleasure of giving Cheryl the keys to her apartment, and watching the look on her face still gives me goosebumps to this day,” said Cooper-Iversen. “I spent at least two hours with her as she worked to figure out where her chairs and tables should go. It was the best afternoon of last summer!”
The success of the pilot program has inspired the two organizations to begin exploring options for connecting CLS clients with more established co-ops – but they agree the process will likely look different than it has with a brand new co-op.
A recent virtual meeting with CLS, CHF BC and several legacy co-ops provided an opportunity for feedback and exploring questions around how the process would work, with many more conversations ahead.
“We want to open as many doors as possible for the people we support,” said Henderson. Including people with disabilities into diverse communities, added Rhodes, building awareness and acceptance and sharing the benefits that come with inclusiveness, would be a “dream scenario.”
It’s hoped that the next phase – expanding the partnering with established co-ops with CHF BC and CLS supports – will prove as successful as the pilot program.
“We realize people will have questions, and need more information,” said Iversen. “We want you to take this idea back to your board of directors” and start the conversation.
For more information on how your co-op could welcome a CLS client, please contact Michelle Cooper-Iversen at email@example.com.
Interested in learning more? check out this 2021 webinar about how independent and semi-independent adults with developmental disabilities want to be part of co-op communities and how housing co-ops can welcome them.