In our Future of Home: Inclusive Housing Solutions Lab, we have partnered with Inclusion Alberta, Civida (formerly Capital Region Housing), and Homeward Trust to explore affordable and accessible housing solutions that support the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. This is complex work that requires the coordination and cooperation of multiple stakeholders and deeper insight into the perspectives and experiences of people with disabilities. Using a social innovation approach, this lab seeks to address the current gaps in housing for people with disabilities.
A social innovation approach enabled us to:
- Bring diverse stakeholders together
- Go deep to understand root causes
- Create solutions with, not for, people
- Find out what works using small scale tests and talking to people
- Moving forward with only the ideas that show promise after testing with community
Leaning into What Really Matters
The purpose of this exploration has always been about so much more than creating a physical building. It’s been about creating spaces that people with and without disabilities can call home.
Having a safe, stable, and comfortable space to call home is the foundation of a rich and inclusive life.
- Having a home is a basic need and right.
- When you have a safe space to start your day from, it is easier to go out and explore your neighborhood and community.
- When you have a home you are proud of you can invite others in and share food, experiences, and laughter!
- Home is where you can experiment and explore what it means to be you! It is a place to express yourself and should be a place where you feel comfortable to be yourself. Your home is a reflection of you!
- Home can be a launching point for connection with others! If your home is part of a community you can build relationships with neighbors, find ways to contribute your gifts and talents, and access important resources and amenities.
What We’re Learning About Home
In our exploration together with people with disabilities, allies, and other community members, we’ve learned a few things about what ‘home’ means.
Lesson #1: A house is not the same as a home
A house is a dwelling – a physical space that provides shelter. Houses take many shapes and may be duplexes, apartments, or stand alone houses.
A home is the physical space as well as the feelings and sense of ownership, pride, belonging, and warmth that come from being in that space.
We often take our sense of home for granted but not everyone feels like their house is a home. We want everyone to have the opportunity to make their house a home.
Lesson #2: There seem to be some ‘qualities’ of home life that are universal
Although everyone’s homelife is unique, there seem to be some qualities that are universal – there are things that most people agree make a house a home.
Safety: Feeling safe inside and outside your home
- Being able to go for walks in your neighborhood
- Being able to be in shared/common spaces in the building
Autonomy and Control: Having autonomy and control within and over your space
- Having the freedom to make the space your own/express your identity – decorate, have plants, have pets, etc.
- To be able to choose who you live with – to choose your roommates or to be able to live with your partner
- To be able to choose your support staff
Connection: Opportunities to connect with friends and neighbors
- Having a good relationship/spark with your support staff
- Knowing your neighbors, having a relationship with them
- To have spaces in your home you can share with others and do things together in
- Having things to do with others in your home when they visit – food, games, comfy seating area, a garden
Independence: Having your independence recognized and respected
- Space to do things on your own or in the way you like it
- To have private space
- Meaningful things to do on your own
- Having the built environment set up to maximize your independence (i.e. thinking about accessibility)
Belonging: A feeling of ownership and that you belong in the space
- To feel like you can be yourself and let your guard down
- To feel like you can stay as long as you want (i.e. you won’t be kicked out)
- A sense of pride and ownership
Lesson #3: A sense of community doesn’t just happen on it’s own, it needs to be nurtured
We often like to think that if we bring people together they will automatically form strong relationships and work together. But what we, and others, are learning is that this is not always the case. Oftentimes it seems like community needs to be nurtured before it can bloom.
In our exploration we played around with the ways the physical space might be part of nurturing community. The prototypes incorporated shared spaces where residents could gather and engage in activities together. They also incorporated wellness and retail spaces, like coffee shops, as ways of encouraging neighbors to bump into one another.
We also played around with ways community development principles and approaches might be part of nurturing community. The prototypes both had a ‘community concierge’ type role that was responsible for bringing the building to life. The idea being that the concierge could intentionally work to match-make people who might be likely to become friends, plan community gatherings, and curate opportunities for people to have shared experiences. The prototypes also explored the idea of having a ‘social contract’ that all residents would agree to before moving there. This social contract would outline the different roles and responsibilities residents agree to take on as citizens and community members.
Lesson #4: There are big and small changes we can make to help more people with disabilities feel like their house is a home
The way our current housing and support systems are set up can sometimes make it difficult for people with disabilities to be able to feel like they can make their house a home. But we can all play a part in working to help more people with disabilities build a beautiful homelife.
Smaller things we can all do
- If you are a support person or family member, always have the person we serve be at the centre of all decisions related to their homelife
- If you are a support person or family member support the person served to make their space a reflection of them – help them decorate or arrange their home the way they want
- If you are a support person or family member, support people to have guests in their home if they want
- Explore creative ways to build connections with neighbours. We often think that by being near or in shared spaces connections and relationships will form. But like community, oftentimes connections too need to be nurtured. This can be done through small gestures that bridge connection. Some ideas include…
- Make an effort to learn your neighbors’ names and chat with them every once in a while
- Welcome new neighbors to the neighborhood by saying hello or baking them a treat
- Offer to take a neighbour’s dog for walk
- Invite the CommuniTEA Infusion Van to your neighborhood or help host a block party
Bigger systems things we can advocate for
- Advocate for people to be able to have pets where they live
- Increase the amount of funding available for ‘innovative’ builds – ‘conventional’ funding structures often aren’t sufficient for what we’re looking to create
- Ensure buildings are held to a high standard of physical accessibility and incorporate elements of universal design
- Breakdown stigma associated with affordable or supportive housing models – combatting ‘Not in my backyard’ attitudes
- Demand more affordable housing options that are also inclusive – for example, rather than being separate buildings, offer affordable suites in regular buildings or a few units in a townhouse development
- Keep trying to understand the promising patterns and principles that support people with and without disabilities from forming lasting relationships
- Advocate for sustainable and meaningful paid employment for people with disabilities
Julia’s story of buying and maintaining her home
Julia is a kind and lovely lady who enjoys music. Prior to 2018, Julia shared a home with her family, but had hopes of one day having a space of her own. After years of exploration and hard work, Julia purchased a condo. Her home brings her a sense of pride and ownership.
Julia’s journey of finding and buying a home was a collaborative process. Julia, her family and supports, together, thought about the dreams and wishes Julia had for her home and explored different possibilities of houses and neighbourhoods. By keeping Julia’s wishes and desires at the centre of the process, Julia was able to find a home that brings her joy.
Some of Julia’s wishes for finding and making her house a home
When looking for a home, Julia shared that it was important to find something that was affordable and in a safe and good neighbourhood. Having amenities nearby is one of the many reasons Julia loves her neighbourhood. She is close to stores and restaurants she enjoys, a swimming pool, fitness centre, and a Tim Hortons – a favorite spot to get cold drinks in the summer!
Julia strongly values her connections with family and friends. Living near family and friends and having space to entertain guests was very important: “I also needed parking spots available so that my friends and family could visit me. …I also wanted to have somewhere to sit outside. Now I have my own deck where I have a small BBQ and a table and chairs for visitors”.
For Julia, what makes her house a home is that it is a safe space to call her own. She has the freedom to choose and place her furniture and decorations the way she likes and has made renovations to her home: “My home is what I made it. It has my stuff in it the way I like it. I feel safe. It is mine and I am proud of it.”
When asked what she loves most about her home, Julia shared: “I love my custom made artwork of my favorite movie Fast and Furious … I also love the scrapbooking projects and framed family photos and keepsakes on my wall. This reminds me of the important people in my life”.
Julia’s story demonstrates some of the qualities of home life that we are finding are universal in making a house a home, while also highlighting the unique qualities that make Julia’s home her own.
Pictured above is Julia’s custom artwork from the movie series Fast and Furious