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Avens Pavilion: What will Yellowknife’s new seniors’ housing be like?

The builders of a 102-unit Yellowknife seniors’ housing facility have set out how they expect the building, its rooms, and its environment to look once complete in 2023.

In a crowded Explorer Hotel conference room, more than 100 residents spent almost two hours at a Tuesday evening public meeting convened to discuss the Avens Pavilion project.

“We want to show you our building. We want to tell you how we got here,” Daryl Dolynny, chief executive of seniors’ group Avens, said as he opened the gathering.

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Over the course of the meeting, representatives of the project discussed what prospective residents can expect in the building’s rooms and communal areas, the kinds of services and activities that might be available, and the anticipated cost of renting a room.

More broadly, Avens sought to define exactly how it interprets the terms independent and affordable, under which the facility is being marketed.

Below, find a summary of information provided by Avens throughout the evening.

Many aspects of Avens Pavilion are not yet finalized. For example, Avens has yet to decide who, exactly, will qualify as a senior for entry to the project, or the precise information they will have to provide to be considered eligible. More consultation is promised.

Even on the night, some informal consultation was taking place. Using a real-time survey app, audience members were asked, for example, whether allowing pets at Avens Pavilion was important to consider. A significant majority of the audience said yes. (Others feared allergies would be a concern. One respondent, their message appearing on a big screen at the front of the room, simply replied: “Chew on my favourite socks.” Another wrote: “Don’t like the taste.”)

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The basics

Avens Pavilion will have 102 units, a figure already widely reported. Of those, 92 will be one-bed units and 10 will be two-bed units, meaning a total of 112 beds.

The building is expected to open in the fall of 2023.

Avens Pavilion will have four wings, currently identified by the letters A, B, C and D. A wing houses a kitchen and laundry facility that serves various Avens buildings and offers some units with more accessibility. B, C and D wings primarily contain residential units.

The four wings of Avens Pavilion are seen in a slide from a public meeting in April 2022
The four wings of Avens Pavilion are seen in a slide from a public meeting in April 2022.

“We’ve gone through a long, extensive process with CMHC to help define what this is,” said project manager Thomas Milan of the design, referring to the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which is supplying more than $30 million in funding for the building.

Dolynny said the project remains “in the early stages,” though nine years have passed since the concept was first floated. There are as yet no 3D renderings of the planned building, he said, directing people instead to floor plans and concept art.

What will the rooms be like?

A typical one-bed unit at Avens Pavilion will be 500 sq ft in size, the project team said on Tuesday. Two-bed units will be about 650 sq ft as currently designed.

Milan said the units don’t have their own washer and dryer, which are instead housed in a central location. He said that partly reflected Avens’ desire to promote aspects of social living, such as encouraging people to sit and chat while folding laundry.

“We want to encourage people to come out of their own units and congregate in those common areas,” he said.

Units in wings B, C and D have their own kitchen stoves though Milan conceded “they are not huge kitchens.” In A wing, units do not have stoves but do have what Milan called a “condo-sized fridge” and space for a toaster, microwave and kettle.

A typical one-bed unit floor plan at Avens Pavilion is seen in a slide from an April 2022 public meeting
A typical one-bed unit floor plan at Avens Pavilion is seen in a slide from an April 2022 public meeting.
This image shows a typical two-bed unit at Avens Pavilion
This image shows a typical two-bed unit at Avens Pavilion.

Explaining the difference in A wing, Milan said the project team’s research had suggested “there is a large population of people that end up not using stoves and would rather have a meal subscription service.”

The two-bed units have two bathrooms, one an en-suite and the other accessible from the common area of the unit.

Asked why the two-bed units were designed this way, Dolynny said Avens was following best practices after having “scoured North America.”

“This one came back, time and time again, as being one of the most sought-after formats,” he said of the two-bathroom model.

All units will have patios or balconies.

During Tuesday’s meeting, one resident asked why Avens Pavilion had so few two-bed units – 10, compared to 92 one-bed units.

Avens director Kelly Hayden, responding, said research involving “historical market information in western Canada” suggested there would not be enough demand.

“Even though you’d think there’d be a ton of demand, market data showed us there wasn’t as big a demand for that,” Hayden said. “They are double the size, double the cost, and your affordability starts going higher and higher.”

What will it cost to live there?

Before getting into the numbers, Avens sought to make clear how it defines affordable housing.

For the purposes of Avens Pavilion, Avens is using a definition of affordable housing that it says appears in the group’s contract with CMHC. That definition sets rent at up to 80 percent of the median market rent for the region, a figure CMHC calculates each year.

That means rent at Avens could fluctuate in line with the market, though Avens is not obliged to adjust its rents each year as long as they remain at or below the 80-percent threshold.

“This housing is not based on your income,” Avens board member Sandra Turner told Tuesday’s attendees. Instead, what makes the housing affordable is that the rent cannot exceed 80 percent of the city’s median market rent.

Turner set out some initial rent projections based on the current median market rent.

She said the median rent is currently $1,517 for a one-bed unit, meaning the rent for a one-bed unit at Avens Pavilion would be expected to come in at $1,213 or thereabouts.

For a two-bed unit, the median rent is $1,744. Eighty percent of that would be $1,395, but Turner said CMHC had given Avens more flexibility with the rent it charges for two-bed units, so those rents may be higher.

“CMHC has allowed us to bring them as close to market as we need to, to offset any additional high costs to operate,” Turned said.

“We have to operate this building with the rent we collect. That’s how this works,” she added. “So if the price of fuel goes up, we need to get more rent.”

Any additional services required will incur a separate charge above the monthly rent payment.

What else will be in the building?

Common areas in Avens Pavilion include a dining room, two social rooms, a chapel, a spa room, a therapeutic massage room, and a community wellness area with a hair salon.

A common bathing room is planned, again billed by Avens as a response to “emerging standards” that encourage more socialization.

Each bedroom will have an accessible shower but no tub, meaning residents seeking a bath will be invited to use a bathing room.

“We want to get feedback on what we might do with those rooms,” Milan told the audience.

There will also be activity rooms, though the activities they will offer remain to be decided.

An image shown to attendees at an Avens Pavilion public meeting shows the building's wings and locations of some common areas
An image shown to attendees at an Avens Pavilion public meeting shows the building’s wings and locations of some common areas.

A family dining room will allow residents to invite family members and cook a meal together, then eat at a larger table than would otherwise be available in their unit.

Green space around the building is planned, though so far no specific garden area is envisaged.

What’s the parking like?

Milan, the project manager, said “about 50 stalls” are currently planned for the 102-unit, 112-bed facility.

“You physically can’t have enough parking. There is not endless land to do that,” said Hayden, the board director.

“We’ve put in the parking we think is sufficient based on our traffic engineers. At a seniors’ facility, a lot of people give up their cars but other people cherish their vehicle. We think we’ve hit a balance.”

Milan added: “We were hopeful to get more throughout the permitting process. We were unsuccessful in that.”

What does independent living mean?

“We do not have currently, in our market, independent living for seniors,” board member Turner declared.

She said Avens defined the independent housing Avens Pavilion will offer as “housing meant for seniors with no particular level of care” who have access to a range of services.

“It is not assisted living,” Turner said. “It’s not like long-term care or dementia.”

Turner said a 2019 survey had identified a need for several hundred new independent or supportive living units. Avens Pavilion, she said, was “only filling a piece” of that gap and “huge need” remained.

Dolynny said he expects Avens Pavilion “will be a full building” as soon as it opens, such is demand.

How do I get in?

Very little of the admissions process has been finalized.

Importantly, Avens does not yet know even how it will define the term “senior” for the purposes of acquiring a unit at Avens Pavilion. Already, several definitions are used in existing Avens buildings depending on the wording of applicable funding agreements.

“We have not officially decided on that,” said Turner. “It is something that is open for you folks to give us some feedback on.”

Avens chief executive Daryl Dolynny, right, addresses residents at a public meeting on April 26, 2022
Avens chief executive Daryl Dolynny, right, addresses residents at a public meeting on April 26, 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Dolynny added: “We have not yet put together our policies in terms of intake. We will have something in place by, most likely, the spring of next year.

“Right now, our focus is getting the building up and running on time and on budget.”

Hayden turned the question back to the audience, using the same real-time survey app to ask people in attendance what they thought the most important criteria should be for admission to Avens Pavilion.

Results displayed on the big screen suggested most respondents in the room felt the length of time someone had lived in the NWT should be a key factor, as should their financial and physical need, and the immediacy of that need.

What do Indigenous groups say?

Yellowknife resident and retired Anglican bishop Chris Williams at one point told Dolynny: “Looking around this room, we are a very Caucasian group.”

Williams asked what consultation had taken place with Indigenous groups regarding the Avens Pavilion project.

“We’ve reached out to all community governments, all community stakeholders inclusively,” Dolynny replied.

“Avens is a very diverse organization. About 42 percent of our residents are from Indigenous cultures,” he said. “Of 130 staff, almost 46 percent of our staff are Indigenous. I’m confident that as we move forward, the multiculturalism of this building will reflect the vision and mission of Avens.”

Pressed by Williams on the matter of whether any Indigenous groups had been consulted, Dolynny replied: “Everyone was invited to this event, it is a public event. We also had a stakeholder event a couple of weeks ago … we have reached out.”

Throughout the evening, representatives of Avens emphasized the continuing nature of their engagement with all NWT residents and promised more would follow.

“The whole idea is to provide a campus that is a safe and caring community for life,” said Turner, discussing the various options still to be finalized.

“All of these choices matter.”

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