Millbrook Manor: the Destination of Choice for Independent Seniors

Photo Karen Graham.
Pictured are Millbrook Manor residents Terry, Gail N., Gail S., Robert, Joyce, Patricia and Paulette in the common room, which was added to the building in 2007. Residents congregate here most days for informal conversation, card games and regular events that usually involve food. While the location of the apartment building is ideal, its geography is not the most important attribute for its residents. Here they each find their own balance of independence and support in this close-knit retirement community. Residents embrace a culture of caring through regular social activities and by simply looking out for each other. Some have grown up together in the community while others are recent acquaintances, but they all share a common goal: to stay here as long as possible, which requires keeping mentally and physically fit.

Millbrook Manor is a well-kept secret.  Tucked in the village behind Foodland, it is ideally located within walking distance to the downtown area and has been a popular destination for seniors seeking affordable rental housing in the community.  Originally called the Millbrook Senior Citizens’ Lodge.  These days its official name is the Millbrook Non-Profit Housing Corporation, but most people know it as the Millbrook Manor.

The residence was built in two phases.  The first consisted of twenty units and opened in July, 1983, followed five years later by the second phase which added 24 more units.  Each phase was financed by different government agencies- the first federal and the second provincial.  Since the downloading of the social housing responsibilities to lower tier government levels, the building was swept into the portfolio of the Housing Services of the City of Peterborough, which provides the Manor with operating agreements, governance and subsidy.

The facility offers permanent rental housing for two types of tenants: those who pay rent tied to the rental market (AMR) and those whose rental rates are based on their incomes, known as Rent Geared to Income (RGI).  Rent in affordable housing units is set at or below average market rates (AMR).  There are 24 apartments of this category, featuring one or two bedrooms. Rent for these units are typically lower than most newspaper and online listings.  In the remaining 20 units, rent is geared to the tenants’ income.   Applications for these units are made through Peterborough Housing Services, and tenants must demonstrate income below a certain level to be eligible.

All units have private kitchens, bathrooms, on-site laundry and shared outdoor and community space.  The building has an elevator and a generator.  Common areas include a shared laundry room.  Outdoor spaces are maintained by the building manager, but residents have set up a vegetable garden which they maintain.  It is an apartment building, not a seniors’ home, so there are no extra services such as meals or housekeeping, and there are no options for short-stay or respite accommodations.

When tenants move in, they tend to be there for a long time, moving not by choice but for health reasons.  This means wait lists are long for both tenant categories, and can be as long as ten years for the RGI units and slightly less for market rate units.  The length of these lists speaks not only to the shortage of comparable housing options for seniors, but also to the appeal of this residence to its tenants.

Oversight of the corporation comes from a volunteer Board of Directors, but property manager Marilyn Lunn, who has held this position since 2003, is the person in charge.  The board meets once a month to discuss financial, administrative and maintenance issues of the building.  At last month’s Annual General Meeting, directors discussed the property’s financial situation.  The mortgage on the property has recently been paid off, which alleviates a significant monthly expense.  However given the age of the building, capital expenditures are ongoing and the building’s mechanical efficiency is not optimal, which puts pressure on operating costs.  Part of the building’s revenue comes from Social Housing which is developed on a model of newer, more efficient construction.

Social housing developments such as the Millbrook Manor are built by non-profit developers because their subsidized rental rates do not generate viable returns for private sector landlords.  There is a severe shortage of affordable housing around the country, that some are now calling a crisis, exacerbated by a vacancy rate for all rental units in Peterborough hovering around 1% for the past several years.  Three percent is considered a healthy vacancy rate.

Local politicians understand the need for more affordable housing but municipal budgets are not designed to address social housing.  At the regional level, Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus are pressing the provincial and federal governments to help rural Ontario access housing support programs to help create infrastructure such as water and wastewater services that could help more affordable housing projects across the region move forward.  They have asked the province to provide adequate and consistent funding for responsibilities that have been downloaded to municipalities, which have pushed expenses normally funded by income taxes and federal government transfers into the property taxes.

There are many new apartments units scheduled for construction in the next few years, which were one of the conditions for approval of these extensive new developments.  While not technically “affordable,” but they will provide new rental options in the area.  The first units expected to come on stream are in the Towerhill North subdivision in the area surrounding the municipal office where service installation has begun. This plan of subdivision includes the construction of 192 apartment units.  Two neighbouring subdivision plans include another 170 apartments.

These new rental units will provide options for seniors wishing to stay in the community, but it’s unlikely they will match the warmth and community spirit found in the Manor.  KG

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