Report by Brian Henson of a workshop
sponsored by Rekindle The Excitement,
on Saturday, 23 October, 2004,
in the
Friendship Centre, James Street, St Marys Ontario

This workshop was announced ”for people with disabilities, families and service providers to hear about unique and different ways people have created a home for themselves…. The first step is having a vision. While this is not a workshop about how to secure funding for individual support needs, it will open minds to what is possible in terms of how people can live.”

Some 70 participants were welcomed by moderator Dianne Peacock. She first introduced Don Justrabo, from Ingersoll who had one message for the participants: “Picture Your Dream Home”. It was not a matter of affordability and other restrictions, as a person dreamed about what type of home they would want.

Mary Muir, a parent of a disabled daughter, told the group about all the trials and stepping stones to her daughter's diagnosis over the years, the attempts at treatments, and how, eventually, her daughter was able to get a home of her own with a supported staff.

Bill Chartrand and Richard Martin spoke about a partnership live-in arrangement of two room mates, one disabled and the other to be there when any support was needed, by a written contract where one is the supporter and live-in mentor, in their own experience with this type of contract, and how encouraging it was for the person with a disability.

Helen Watson surveyed historical aspects of housing for people with disabilities in Ontario, from the earliest asylums in the mid-eighteen hundreds. She outlined what was called the “eugenics scare” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century where people who had any disability were discouraged or even forbidden from having children (as they felt that the disability would be passed on to the children), and therefore, the genders were quarantined in the disability institutions of the time. The parents’ movement started in the late 1940s in Kirkland Lake, and became an international movement that led to the formation of the now Association for Community Living. This movement found that parents often had more knowledge than the experts of what was happening to their disabled children, and movement grew to get the people out of institutions and into community group homes. The vocational rehabilitation act was passed during this period, and schooling was opened to everyone by 1969; also a tri-ministry project began in 1982 to get persons out of nursing homes. Beyond the government, a self-advocacy movement started in England in 1972, and the “People First Movement” started in 1981. This movement supported closing of large institutions, and now the last three large institutions in Ontario are slated to close. The fact that people are being moved to nursing homes was just not good enough for the families who could dream that their disabled member would have a home of his or her own. Helen ended by quoting Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world.”

Barb Leavitt outlined the various ways that others have found a home, emphasizing the dream of home ownership, itself, for persons with disabilities. She quoted a source as saying that “He is happiest be he king or peasant who finds peace in his home.” Control of what the home is must be shared with the disabled person himself or herself. Barb then gave a quick list of the ten conditions (with audience participation in the last one) that David Letterman set out in his description of how to tell a house from a home. She then went on to show Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how “self-actualization” is a matter of safety to the individual, again quoting, that “to the man who only has a hammer in the tool kit, every problem looks like a nail.” Then the outline of ten different ways that people can live in the community, including supportive neighbours, co-op housing, intentional community, and supportive housing were discussed.

Next, Dave Murray, Sarah Agar, and Katherine Robinson spoke about “subsidized housing”. They outlined how, in their search for such housing for a disabled person (Dave Murray), no existing housing was found, and how they found out about new homes for disabled persons were being built in the US. They went to a local builder in Stratford to get a home built with two sides, one for the disabled person and one for the support staff. A new investor was contacted, and a meeting was set up with this investor, an agent from the government (about funding), and a real estate agent. They found a means of getting the home built, found support staff (as a live-in family), and finally the disabled person was able to get a roommate and cat.

After lunch, Jim Henry of Perth County spoke about “Rent-to-Own” Housing--how he managed to get it established in his property development, and how other organizations (such as the Association for Community Living) could use the same principle to aid low-income disabled persons in obtaining their own homes. He quoted the saying: “You can only learn what you already know.” He outlined the “dream” of a girl who wanted to go to Paris, and how she finally made it with support from others who became her allies. This was an analogy to people wanting to own homes of their own, despite having disabilities. Jim stated how he was a supporter of the concept of Habitat for Humanity, but that the “Rent-to-Own” plan can far exceed any Habitat for Humanity assistance, in achieving affordable housing. The need for allies in the dream could not be emphasized enough: “The wisdom of community will always exceed the knowledge of experts.”

Jim Henry then explained how his “Rent-to-Own” concept and operation had been going on for about ten years. He showed how the “Rent-to-Own agreement is a partnership, and how it has been growing incrementally over the years from Stratford, and is now being expanded into Huron County and London. He told a humorous anecdote, about a pastor speaking to his congregation one Sunday about plans to expand the church: “The good news is that the money is available; the bad news is that the money is in your pockets.” There is still a fear of donating money for a worthwhile cause, as many donors feel that they will outlive their donations, and may end up being in need of donations, themselves.

Jim then outlined what conceptual thinking is all about, in four steps: Finding out how to think, talking to others, picturing the project, and finally nailing it down. In Ontario, Jim pointed out, 47% of government taxation goes to Health care, 14% to Community and Social Services, 27% to Education and Training, and the rest (16%) goes to the other government ministries. Therefore, private funding investment is needed for disability housing (as more government funding is not realistic, given the figures). This will produce a win-win situation for both the government and the private investor. Today, 3.6% of all tax payments come from retirees; and it is projected to drop to 1.6% by 2050, with even fewer tax-paying individuals. Therefore self-reliance is necessary when it comes to funding.

Rent-to-Own is a stepping stone to home ownership. It is a private system making home ownership affordable. It involves a concept of home ownership, an investor, an advocate, a consumer (buyer), some risk management, and property management, as well. Jim went on to say that the Association for Community Living should begin to cushion itself into becoming landlords in helping disabled people with home ownership.

Jim pointed out that the property management is up to the tenant (buyer) in Rent-to-Own. Also, he stated that “Rent-to-Own” has no comparison with the retail “rent-to-own” stores. In explaining how the “Rent-to-Own” program works, Jim Henry showed how he markets middle-income workers for his projects. There is a large market for the lower income; and one problem is how to close the gap between those who can afford “Rent to Own”, as it stands now, and those in the lower income bracket who cannot afford it. But, despite this obstacle, Jim emphasized that home ownership is the best R.S.P. that anyone could ever have. In the agreement for “Rent-to-Own”, there is an amortized schedule in the contract, and a “long-term agreement for the sale of land”. The vendor is not the landlord; the contract is registered in the land registry office; and the house stays in the company (vendor) name until (or unless) default of complete payment is received.

In his contract with the buyers of the “Rent-to-Own” property, there is a fixed price with the utilities and taxes added; and a down payment of $1900 is required. The percent increase over the previous price multiplied by five years is equal to the capital cost of a house sold under “Rent-to-Own”. Improvements are built-in to the settlement price; and by a cash-back home improvement allowance, specific allowances are made for specific repairs or upgrades. The amortization is for 30 years, but after five years, there is often enough equity in the home for the person to obtain an individual mortgage, and pay off the “Rent-to-Own” contract. It is all laid out in a “Letter of Understanding” by the parties to the contract. Jim reiterated his concern that ”Rent-to-Own” is a partnership with each party being a partner in the deal.

Jim finished by showing how people will contribute to the community when they are economically advantaged. In investing funds into these homes under a system of “Rent-to-Own”, the private investment system needs down payment money. One percentage point above GICs goes to a non-profit corporation, but this cannot be guaranteed (as a GIC) except by a promissory note. Jim stated: “To advantage people is to use the money out of your own pocket, as your investment into the non-profit corporation.” A promissory note is not secured, according to the banks.

Representatives of various groups and organizations announced initiatives or meetings likely to interest the people present. One was Jan Burke-Gaffney of the Hamilton Family Network about the release of the discussion paper, Transforming Services in Ontario for People who have a Developmental Disability. Planned Lifetime Networks of Waterloo-Wellington (in Kitchener) and People First (Niagara) planned meetings to discuss the paper. 

Various other points were made and discussed in question-and-answer periods:

  • Smaller communities may be more open to innovation in housing, whereas large cities are subject to government red tape.
  • Legacy funding, as developed by Brockville Community Living, as a means for parents to pass their legacy to the next generation.
  • The need for parents, government and agencies to work together as allies in the campaign for disability homes.
  • A warning of how can backfire was quoted from Maritime Canada, where a survey asked “How much money is being raised by private fund-raising?” After the survey results were published, the government funding was cut to the areas receiving the most private funding.
  • A shared equity arrangement was described as a tool for fighting inflation, with the equity of homes rising with the cost of living.
  • Bruce Kappel then told the group, when answering a government survey put out by the Ministry of Community and Social Services about people getting out of nursing homes, was to “ignore the questions, and say what you need to say!” It was pointed out that the family responses to the survey were being kept separate from the professional and institutional responses, and that the more responses that came from families, themselves, the greater the impact on government policy and planning.
  • The question of how Habitat for Humanity could help the cause of disability housing was raised. Some had approached Habitat for Humanity about individualized housing but had been told that just new family housing for low-income families was considered. One participant asked if anything could be done to persuade this organization to open their policy to individualized funding and to renovation work (as opposed to limiting it to new homes). A few from the Waterloo-Wellington area told how the Canadian head office of Habitat for Humanity was located in Waterloo, and that they would not mind contacting this office if it would help. Bruce Kappel offered to coordinate an approach to the organization with the participant and the volunteers from Waterloo and himself as a group to try to get the issues of disability housing for individuals through to the head office. This was hailed, by some, as the epitome of the “Home Sweet Home” conference in showing how allies and teamwork can really help individuals with disabilities in their approach to owning a home.