Disabilities Advocates Split Over Guelph Housing Proposal

By Alex McKeenStaff Reporter
Mon., July 24, 2017

Angel Oak Communities wants to build a self-sustaining community hub aimed at helping people with disabilities, but some advocates say the approach evokes dark ‘institutional’ past.

Mark Enchin, left, and his step-daughter Carly Hatton, hang out in the courtyard of the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph on Friday, July21, 2017. Enchin want to use the space to build a sustainable and affordable community hub for various groups of people to live and work together.

A proposal by a not-for-profit organization to turn an old Jesuit college into a residence and community centre aimed at people with disabilities has drawn the ire of some advocates who fear the plan will marginalize the building’s future residents.

Angel Oak Communities submitted a proposal to Ignatius Jesuit Centre in March for a “self-sufficient” community with about 70 residential units, the “majority” of which would be occupied by adults with disabilities, and the rest rented out as affordable housing units.

The Orchard Park building at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre, outside Guelph, would also house day programming for disabled adults, a bakery and a greenhouse (where the population could gain skills and earn an income), and its own renewable energy system.

Mark Enchin, real estate sales and marketing director of Angel Oak Communities, said that concerns about the project evoking institutionalization are unfounded, and that interest has been widespread in the Guelph community.

“We’re building a community centre that focuses on helping people with disabilities,” he said in an interview this week.

Enchin plans to sell about 50 lifetime leases on units for about $250,000 to $300,000 each to pay for the initial building costs. The preliminary budget for the building renovations totals roughly $15 million, he said in an interview. Money from the remaining rental units will pay for the ongoing operational costs in the building.

Community Living Ontario, a 70-year-old organization that oversees 100 local offices aimed at supporting people with disabilities within their communities and homes, is denouncing the proposal.

The organization cites concerns that it will segregate people with disabilities from the community and leave residents vulnerable to the kind of mistreatment and neglect that was common in historical institutions.

Yvonne Spicer, a Milton resident who is the past-chair of Community Living Ontario’s council of individuals with intellectual disabilities, said she is outraged by the plan.

“Institutions are not safe places for us,” Spicer said. “I’m for inclusion. I’m for people with disabilities being included in the community.”

Enchin, whose 24-year-old daughter is autistic, said he is trying to build a living situation for people with disabilities that can give aging family members peace of mind about how their loved ones will get by after they pass away.

The brief describes a “vision for an integrated, diverse community to enrich and support the core resident population.”

Enchin said that some of the plans described in the design brief may change based on consultations the not-for-profit has done in the community, including the proportion of residential occupants with disabilities.

The Jesuit Province of Canada has agreed in a letter of intent to enter into a rental agreement with Angel Oak Communities.

Lisa Calzonetti, operations director for the Ignatius Jesuit Centre, said her organization would not be entering into the agreement “if we thought it was anything even remotely akin to any form of institutionalization.”

Chris Beesley, CEO of Community Living Ontario, said that despite Enchin’s intention to oversee a project that is different from historical institutions, his organization is certain that the proposed model won’t have the positive effect Enchin is hoping for.

“It’s not because they’re trying to say, ‘Let’s denigrate and let’s try and do them harm.’ But they don’t know of the 150-year history that we’re aware of,” he said, referring to Ontario’s long history of institutionalization and the many stories of abuse that followed from it.

Enchin said that his project differs fundamentally from institutions because of its focus on community building.

“I’m not just putting this out for sale and taking the first 70 buyers,” he said.

Proposed building plans show dedicated spaces for “Staff/Guest/Short term occupant” in addition to residential suites at the site. Seven of the proposed units are set to be barrier-free.

Beesley said that he would feel differently about the project if Enchin succeeds in creating an “intentional community,” meaning one that demographically mirrors that of Guelph. He says he does not see that aim in Enchin’s talk about the project’s business model.

The proposal comes amid a housing crisis for people with disabilities in Ontario. A 2014 Ontario auditor general’s report says that the province’s waiting list for people with developmental disabilities would take 22 years to clear.

“If the choice isn’t between a rock and a hard place and parents right now, that’s what they feel this is the only option they see that might be feasible,” Beesley said.

The Ontario government closed its last government-run residential institution for people with disabilities in 2009, marking the end of a decades-long transition to a community-based support model. Enchin said that, if all proceeds as planned, renovations on the building should begin later this year.

Original at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/07/24/disabilities-advocates-split-over-guelph-housing-proposal.html