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Long-awaited affordable seniors housing opens

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From left, Noam Schnitzer, Eric Bissell, Robert Libman, Ted Greenfield and Eileen Katz gather in the dining room of the new Château B’nai Brith. (Janice Arnold photo)

After a number of setbacks, B’nai Brith says that its second affordable apartment building for autonomous seniors in Montreal will be fully operational this fall.

The close to $28-million Château B’nai Brith at 7171 Côte-St-Luc Rd., which broke ground in late 2016, is about three-quarters occupied, said Ted Greenfield, the chair of the project.

He is confident that the 129-unit building will be full by the end of the year. In compliance with government criteria, at least half, and possibly all, of the units will be subsidized, and are available to people over 65 whose income and assets are below an established threshold.

Even the unsubsidized units have rents somewhat below what is considered market value and applicants have to meet guidelines set by the province.

Discussion about the project began soon after the first residence, the 95-unit B’nai Brith House, which is also on Côte-St-Luc Road, opened 13 years ago.

B’nai Brith believed there was a serious need for kosher housing for low- to moderate-income seniors who can live independently.

In 2016, B’nai Brith launched a campaign to raise the $3 million it is required to contribute to the project. The Quebec government has kicked in the largest proportion of the cost, with the province and federal governments providing mortgage guarantees for the remainder.

When construction of the seven-storey building began, it was expected to be complete by July 2018. That was then extended into the fall and construction issues later pushed it into 2019.

About 30 residents did move in last October because they had sold their homes or ended their leases by that time. Since February, others have been moving in.

At one point, there were about 450 people on a waiting list for consideration, said Greenfield, but they either were not eligible or made other plans due to the uncertainty over the opening date.

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The building is named after Eric and Naomi Bissell, who gave the lead donation of $1 million to the project. Greenfield said the $3-million goal has not been reached yet.

Bissell is certain that with the Château fully functioning, securing the balance will be easier. And she is delighted with the finished product.

“It looks more like a condo than affordable housing. We are offering a lifestyle retired people can afford: activities, companionship, security and great food,” said Bissell, who stressed that, “You don’t have to be poor to live here.”

Greenfield said there have been a significant number of inquiries from people who do not qualify because of their means, which is an indication of the Château’s appeal.

Eliminating the “stigma” associated with subsidized housing is important to the project’s leaders, and that no one knows who is subsidized and who isn’t.

All residents are required to eat lunch in the dining room on weekdays, which is included in the rent. Not only is this intended to give residents a break from cooking, but, more importantly, to foster a community feeling and offer a measure of security if someone does not show up, said Eileen Katz, the executive director of both residences.

On the ground floor of the Château is a spacious foyer that’s flooded with natural light, where a reception desk is manned until 8 p.m. Three multifunctional rooms provide space for a variety of included activities, from fitness, to music (one room has a grand piano), to religious services.

The dining room is elegantly appointed with upholstered chairs and tables set with gleaming cutlery and glassware. Its large windows look onto the garden, which has a patio and newly planted trees and shrubs.

One initial concern about the site, which is situated on land bought from the City of Côte-St-Luc, was the CPR tracks that run right behind the building. A high berm topped by a wooden wall was built for security and to muffle noise.

Designed by prominent Montreal and New York architect Karl Fischer, the building is L-shaped to avoid an institutional feeling. The 12 two-bedroom units with 818 square feet of space are rented out. The one-bedroom units measure 648 square feet.

All units have big windows, high ceilings, a recessed balcony and storage space. The stove and refrigerator in the kitchenette are included, as are the blinds and fixtures. Laundry rooms are on each floor.

There are emergency pull cords in both the bedrooms and bathrooms, which have walk-in showers equipped with grab bars.

Heating and electricity are extra (there is no air conditioning). Each room has its own thermostat.

The hallways are wide and have railings on each side. Little touches like large apartment numbers and a sensor light over each door make life a little easier for older people.

Up-to-date security features range from key fobs to sprinklers, and a live-in superintendent couple are available 24/7.

The Château has been designed to set a new standard for subsidized housing in the province, said Noam Schnitzer, who managed the development. This took a little persuasion by Robert Libman, who acted as a liaison with the three levels of government.

Bissell emphasized that, while the Château is owned and operated by B’nai Brith, it is “a Montreal project” that was conceived for, and is supported by, the community, and run by a local board.

 

For more information on Château B’nai Brith, call 514-489-7171.

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