Silver Birch Haven celebrates grand opening

Local dignitaries from Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan councils, MP Garnett Genuis, Seniors Minister Josephine Pon and MLA Jordan Walker joined resident Kay Price to cut the ribbon during the Friday, Sept. 6 grand opening of Silver Birch Haven. Lindsay Morey/News Staff

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Heartland Housing Foundation’s latest facility offers more than a safe refuge for seniors, it’s also their forever home.

Silver Birch Haven held its official grand opening in the company of local dignitaries, HHF board members and facility residents on Friday, Sept. 6.

Affordable and subsizied housing, the 94-dwelling building caters to those 65 years of age or older who are active and independent in a supportive living facility. Since late July after HHF presented to Strathcona County council, Silver Birch Haven opened up 28 units as affordable units, rather than market value, in an attempt to increase its occupancy rate, which was lagging at 39 per cent full. If HHF is successful in securing provincial Lodge Assistance Program grant funding, a portion of the 67 low-income applicants who are waitlisted could be given rooms and increase the occupancy rate to 64 per cent. Those individuals earn a monthly income between $678 to $2,376.

Silver Birch Haven residents gathered outside of the facility on Friday to celebrate the official opening. Lindsay Morey/News Staff

HHF board chair and Fort Saskatchewan city councillor Deanna Lennox noted the idea of creating a community within a community started years ago to address the need for a new kind of seniors housing.

“Seniors with slightly higher incomes faced significant challenges in finding suitable housing. The unique rent structure of the Haven provides supportive and affordable rates to middle-income earners. This expansion completes the campus-style property and completes the vision of bringing people together in a way that supports and maintains the quality of life that seniors and residents deserve,” said Lennox.

As HHF was formed in partnership with the City of Fort Saskatchewan to offer housing options in both communities, Mayor Rod Frank outlined it’s been a pleasure to work across municipal lines to get important projects such as Silver Birch Haven funded and built.

“I want to congratulate everyone for not only your passion but for achieving real results… I look forward to future projects,” said Frank.

The latest 2018 municipal census pegs the seniors, ages 65 and older, at 14,660 or 16.1 per cent of the overall population in Strathcona County. Nearly 11,000 of those live in the urban service area. The report underlined the ongoing trend of an aging population, citing the average age was 39.8 years old in the urban area and the median age was 40. In 2015, the average age was 38.5 years old and the median age was 39. Seniors accounted for 11,618 residents in 2015 — 13.6 per cent of the overall population.

In the recent 2018 Satisfaction Survey, more than 82 per cent agree that the county is a great place to retire.

“It’s really exciting to see the grand opening of Silver Birch Haven. Seniors are in fact the fastest demographic growing in Strathcona County and their needs are growing just as fast. Housing for seniors to promote aging in place, reducing the need to move away and reducing isolation is a big need in our community,” said Frank.

MP Garnett Genuis noted projects like this help support residents who raised their families here and allows them to remain in the community in old age to be close their children and grandchildren.

“To see a diversity of senior housing options in the county is so important. It’s key to community building, to have different age cohorts together and maintain those connections. It’s exciting to see more units and space added to the Silver Birch complex. I’m pleased to partner with and support Silver Birch in whatever way,” said Genuis.

Silver Birch Haven resident Kay Price thoroughly enjoys living at Heartland Housing Foundation’s newest facility. A grand opening, including a high tea, was held on Friday, Sept. 6.Lindsay Morey/News Staff

Resident Kay Price moved to Silver Birch Haven at the end of March after her husband passed away. The two had lived together in Sherwood Park but moved to Millwoods when he was diagnosed with cancer. Now she’s back in the community where she belongs, where her friends, family, and church all reside. Besides the friendly staff and great food, she enjoys her spacious one-bedroom unit, which doesn’t include a stove because she joked she’d rather not cook anymore and eat meals in the dining room.

“It’s like home,” said Price. “When I walked in here, I just felt like I was at home.”

Even though the facility has been opened for a few months, it has already lived up to its name when it provided refuge for ten seniors who were evacuated from the Town of La Crete in late May due to wildfires in northern Alberta. Seniors Minister Josephine Pon, who was also on hand for the official ribbon cutting on Friday, acknowledged HHF for that kind gesture.

“Thank-you to Heartland Housing for stepping up in a time of crisis and thank-you for bringing the Silver Birch Haven project to life. This is the can-do spirit Albertans are known for,” Pon said.

Seniors Minister Josephine Pon thanked Heartland Housing Foundation staff for their quick response to welcoming wildfire evacuees from the Town of La Crete in late May.Lindsay Morey/News Staff