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Comox residential complex opens for seniors, people living with disabilities

Comox Valley Record - 12/9/2023

Media and local dignitaries were given a tour of Cypress Gardens on Thursday, Dec. 7, as Comox's newest residential complex was officially unveiled.

The 52-unit property offers affordable and accessible rental homes for seniors 60 and older, and people of all ages living with disabilities. The building replaces a 16-unit townhouse complex owned by the Comox Valley Affordable Housing Society (CVAHS), which was reaching the end of its lifespan, and more than triples the number of affordable housing units on the site and enhances the neighbourhood.

"To be in this place, in this space, is a real tribute to the work of the (CVAHS) board, that said 'we can do this,'" said Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard. "Not every community is capable of taking on a project of this magnitude… hopefully this is the first of many such builds.

"This is a great day for all of us, including the people who get to live here."

Comox Mayor Nicole Minions was also on hand, and passed along her gratitude.

"I just want to say on behalf of the Town of Comox, thank you to the province, thank you to BC Housing, thank you to the whole (CVAHS) board. I know this is something we really wanted to prioritize and just seeing it here now built and seeing how beautiful it is… It has blown all of our expectations out of the water."

Cypress Gardens was designed to meet the needs of people with various disabilities that might affect mobility, vision and hearing. Twelve of the units are wheelchair accessible. The remaining units are adaptable, meaning they have been designed to easily accommodate future renovations to improve accessibility if the tenant's needs change. The building has earned a certified gold rating under the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) program.

"This building shows that with a bit of pre-planning, affordable housing can be made accessible to everyone," said Ann Janssen, executive director, CVAHS. "By making housing accessible, we can enable people to thrive, making a difference in the lives of those with disabilities and seniors who wish to age in place.

"We are changing lives with this building."

Janssen credited Ramesh Lad, from Step by Step Accessibility Consulting, for doing the bulk of the work associated with the RHFAC certification process.

"We look at every aspect of accessibility," said Lad, discussing the process. "So we aren't just looking at physical accessibility. We are looking at visual impairment, learning, hearing - every aspect. So for instance, the colour coding of the different floors would help perhaps someone with dementia, or with learning disabilities.

"To get the certification, we look at every aspect of the building, from the car park to how a person gets into the building, how they can access different parts of the building. We look at sound as well, to make sure someone with hearing issues can manage the building properly. Every room is also certified… from how you get in, to the kitchen units, countertops, bathrooms, to make sure every room is accessible to everyone."

The building features a large community room, an on-site office and a laundry facility on each floor. It is located close to downtown Comox, providing easy access to nearby shopping, medical care and recreational facilities.

Don Urquhart is one of the tenants that has already moved into the facility.

He was relieved to be accepted.

"I was given eight months' notice where I was living - the landlord needed the basement suite for his family," said Urquhart, who is blind. "We put my name in for this and within a week and a half, I was accepted so the process was very fast.

"I'm all moved in, and it feels wonderful. It's close to everything and I can walk everywhere on proper sidewalks, instead of in a ditch."

The concept of Cypress Gardens is for it to be a well-rounded community of its own, integrating seniors, low-income earners, and those living with disabilities.

According to BC Housing, 70 per cent of the Cypress Gardens units are subsidized, with the remaining 30 per cent (16 units) below market rate.

"Those are the ones that are $1,400 to 1,450," said a BC Housing spokesperson. "But those are the ones that are for people earning above certain income limits, which I believe is over $44,000."

Twenty per cent of the building is considered 'deep subsidy,' which is for seniors whose incomes are limited to basic seniors pension and guaranteed income supplement, people who are on PWD (person with liabilities) income assistance, and people who are earning less than $22,935.

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