Alberta, Canada
Abundant Life Autism

A Christian Cohousing Initiative in Alberta for Families by Families

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Q & A

Q: Cohousing as a housing model for people with autism and similar disabilities. Why?

A: Cohousing may very well be the solution for isolation and abuse. Why? Because cohousing offers a safe and supportive environment. All residents know each other. It offers opportunities for social interaction without sacrificing privacy. It creates opportunities to contribute, to share resources and experiences, and to learn how to cooperate. Our community will be unique in that it will have large shared space specifically designed for autism and similar disabilities. Sensory rooms and Quiet Corners which help soothe, engage, and calm, will be throughout the common spaces, both indoors and out. Daily social opportunities designed around residents' interests ensure ample opportunity to be engaged and get to know one's tribe. 



Q: Why a Christian cohousing development?

A: Cohousing developments are built around core values: be it environmental, seniors aging in place, etc. Our families are Christian, and we want the environment to have a Christian climate. We recognize that not all family members may be Christian and that is okay. We simply ask that everyone choosing to have community in Abundant Life support that climate and not be against it.

If the Common House is seen as an extension of our living room, then by that definition, we want our kids to feel welcome to sing Jesus Loves Me and not feel suppressed.

We also recognize that just getting to church is sometimes a struggle. For that reason we plan on having an optional ministry program.


That said, we believe this housing model answers some of the existing gaps in the options currently available to Albertans with autism and their families. With that in mind we want to help other communities be established. We are willing to help any group of potential cohousers once we are settled. 



Q: Isn’t this a group home?

A: No. Group homes typically offer services. The only thing Abundant Life offers is fantastic social opportunities and a rich community life. Individuals and families are responsible for hiring any needed supports just as they would if they lived anywhere else in Alberta. Group homes require government licensing. Abundant Life is simply cohousing, titled condo/strata, available to anyone in Canada desiring rich community. It consists of independently owned homes along with a share of the generous common spaces. Adults with autism can choose to live independently, with their families, or with a roommate or two of their choosing.

Q: My child has a strong need for stability, continuity, and familiarity. Moving from where we are into Abundant Life will cause so much stress for him or her. Why would we want that?

A: The need for familiarity and routine are indeed hallmarks of autism, however, the need for stability and continuity needs to be extended past the here and now, and past a parent’s lifetime. The reality is that for many of our kids, once we are gone, the risk of isolation and abuse will increase. Consider this: what will my child be doing when they are 65 years old? What about 80 years old? Will his or her quality of life suffer after I’m gone? If your child will be living with a sibling: what happens when one passes? Will isolation set in then? How can I be sure my child won't be moved about after I'm gone?

For our family, we decided that our child’s sibling could be involved on a voluntary basis. For example, they could choose to travel and vacation together, spend summer months together, spend every Christmas break together. It could be something siblings look forward to, not a chore that may lose it’s glimmer someday. We wanted to set our son up while we are here to help walk him through the stress of moving, to be there to support him through it and see him eventually settle. He will adapt because we will help him. When we pass away, he will be fine. He will still have a supportive community around him, people who care about him, and he will still have his first of the month Christmas club, Friday’s movie nights, among other activities he will have come to look forward to. Even though he will grieve the loss of us, he will have the stability of his home, his friends, his routine, and none of that will change. Life will go on, and many eyes and hands will ensure he is fine.


Q: Integrity. Dignity. Respect. Choice. Preference. Will the adults with disabilities have a voice?
A: Absolutely! We plan on working with professionals and parents to present choices to our adults with autism, from general housing options (is cohousing right for me?) to roommate choice, unless of course, they choose to live independently in a one bedroom unit. 

 

Q: Who will live in Abundant Life?

A: We anticipate between 12 to 14 people with autism or similar disability, each living as they choose, either with their chosen roommate/s or alone in their own condo type suite or home, or with their family. Their parents or guardians can live in their own home next door, across the garden, or at the end of the lane. Any family member, friend, or supportive person to a resident with autism may own their own unit within the community and benefit from the richness that comes with cohousing. We will also have a limited number of units available for singles or families who feel a call to live missionally within our community. Our guesstimate for numbers is roughly 70 people in 25 individual homes.


Q: What will it cost?

A: Costs vary greatly in cohousing, but tend to be comparable to the market value of houses in the area. Cohousing can be cheaper because individual homes are typically smaller. Homes do not need a spare bedroom, laundry room, art room, garage, workshop, or gym, because those rooms can be shared resources in the Common House. On the other hand, cohousing can be more expensive initially because as a group, people often choose premium quality and energy efficient building components, rather than the cheaper, standard materials more commonly available. These decisions will be made together as a group, and the choices made will dictate the cost.

A general rule of thumb for cohousing costs is this: if you own your own home currently, you can afford cohousing.

Our dependants on AISH are able to own or co-own their home, and it would be wise to help set aside some of their income to start saving for this.

In addition to the costs of owning your own home in Abundant Life, there will be condo fees to cover the maintenance of the common house and common grounds.

All costs will be without markup, as nobody is in this to make money.


Q: So, you’re not asking for donations?


A: For our own homes? Of course not! Homeowners will pay for their own homes and a portion of the shared common areas. 


Having said that, we realize that much of our shared space will be extraordinary due to the extraordinary needs of autism. If this was a neurotypical space, we wouldn’t need commercial grade indoor and outdoor swings, hammocks, sensory spaces, water features, or adult sized playground equipment. We wouldn’t need top rated sound insulation, diffused lighting, unbreakable windows, or blinds built within the window panes. If it was a neurotypical Common House we wouldn’t need extra space so that nobody ever felt trapped. We wouldn’t need little spaces tucked away that are designed to calm.


Aside from the needs, there may be autism related desirables, such as a pair of therapeutic riding horses and the costs to care for them (if the zoning allows,) a few pinball or arcade games to draw our people out of their homes and into the common space, a room full of washable recliners to create a Common House theatre. Perhaps a few computer stations, aquariums, or light tables may contribute to a peaceful and interesting environment. Maybe an indoor solarium that feels like a jungle getaway that would offer a year-round retreat for stress management and self-care. Perhaps vocational opportunities can be worked into our model, with an optional shop or bakery open to the public. 


There will be many features needed directly due to autism. For these spaces, we will consider grants, individual, and corporate sponsors.


If you know of someone or an organization that would like to make a lasting difference for people with autism, please do pass along our information. In doing so, you become part of the Village, so thank you!



Q: Location. Where will this community be?


A: We are looking at both Calgary and Edmonton locations. It would be great to have a location in each city.


Q: Timeline: when will this be done?

A: Cohousing developments can take as little as 3 years, and as much as 10 years to develop. Many factors impact development timelines. Our families are special needs families; we are busy and tired. However, our desire and sheer determination to give our kids a great life will ensure the process does see completion!


Q: Why join the group now?

A: There are 3 great reasons to join now:


  1. The families who form the core will be deciding important things: values, goals, membership and decision making policies, site location, which professionals to hire. As time goes on, the group continues to make decisions, like if we should have therapeutic riding horses, a chicken coop, the layout of the community, Common House and individual home floor plans, and where the sensory spaces should be. Subsequent families can only vote on things that have not yet been decided. So in order to be involved in important decisions that impact everyone, consider being involved earlier rather than later. Lot selection is also determined by the order in which Membership Questionnaires have been received.
  2. Community! The process of getting to know each other and building relationships happens long before the first foundation is poured. For our adults with disabilities, it gives them a chance to see who (if anyone) they’d like to have as a roommate. We hope to hire behaviour analysts to help us understand who would get along with whom, and likewise, who should not be roommates based on triggers or observations. We anticipate that affording our kids this opportunity to "find their own tribe" will pay off in huge dividends, both for their social development, and for having pre-existing connections come move-in time.
  3. The more our group grows, the more momentum we will have. We will spur each other on and the project will come to fruition more easily.     



Q: How do we become members?


A: Members must have the financial means to purchase a home in the community. AISH recipients are able to own or co-own their own home.  Memberships begin with low cost and low risk (Associate Membership) and may lead to full membership with the intention of living in the community (Equity Membership.)  For more information, visit our MEMBERSHIP section.


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