This past spring, Jewish residents of Ottawa aged 55 and over were surveyed to gauge their interest in a potential Jewish retirement residence located on or near the Jewish Community Campus.
The concept of a Jewish retirement residence in Ottawa is not new. A decade ago, AJA 50+ launched a project to construct a Jewish seniors’ residence on land owned by Agudath Israel Congregation. However that project never came to fruition.
Moving forward to 2013, Tamir launched a new plan to construct an Integrated Living Centre (ILC) on or near the Jewish Community Campus to support the need for housing for its supported independent living clients.
In the fall of 2014, the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa approved a plan for the development of the Tamir ILC to be built on campus land. This provided a fresh opportunity to assess the feasibility of combining these two projects: to address the needs of Tamir clients and the need for housing for seniors.
Addressing issues affecting seniors is part of Federation’s five-year strategic plan, which includes goals of “expanding involvement and engagement in Jewish life and learning for all ages,” and “fostering greater co-operation and partnership among community agencies and organizations.”
Federation assembled a Working Group, which includes representatives of Tamir, AJA 50+ and Jewish Family Services. The Working Group, chaired by Lewis Leikin, decided that a survey of Jewish seniors in Ottawa was the next step in determining whether or not there is sufficient need and interest among Ottawa’s Jewish seniors to make a Jewish retirement residence viable, and the extent of support for such a residence to be integrated with Tamir’s ILC.
“Here we have an opportunity for different organizations to work together to link projects, to find ways to leverage resources,” explained Leikin. “This is a window of opportunity for our community, and we must move forward quickly but carefully to see if it is possible to meet multiple needs at once.”
With a grant from Federation’s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, the Working Group hired demographer Charles Shahar to conduct the Jewish Retirement Residence Survey.
The survey was conducted in March and April and included 175 telephone interviews and an online survey completed by 275 people. Several individuals were interviewed in Russian to ensure the participation of the Russian-speaking Jewish community.
A majority of respondents expressed at least some level of interest in living in a Jewish retirement residence. More than half, 54.6 per cent, said they might be interested in living in a Jewish retirement residence, while 27 per cent said they were definitely interested. Less than one in five, 18.4 per cent, expressed no interest. Additionally, the themes expressed by respondents in their open-ended responses were generally positive and enthusiastic about living in a Jewish retirement residence.
The survey results and the expressed level of support are encouraging, but they are not without limitations. A cautionary interpretation of the results should be taken for several reasons.
The first red flag is that the Jewish aspects of a retirement residence were ranked as far less important to respondents than other aspects such as affordability and the attractiveness of the apartment, the building and the common areas.
Another cautionary point is that the survey indicated a wide disparity in price point, accommodation type and health needs among respondents. While people may agree on the concept of a Jewish retirement residence, appealing to the varied tastes and desires of individuals presents a significant challenge.
The final cause for a cautionary interpretation of the results is that, according to the demographer, the survey methodology may have underestimated the ambivalence of seniors’ interest in living in an integrated residence with Tamir residents.
For these reasons, further investigation is warranted to assess the operational and financial feasibility of an Ottawa Jewish community retirement residence. Additional efforts are needed to determine if there is sufficient commonality among users and demand for a fully integrated Jewish seniors’ living centre.
Accordingly, the Working Group will continue to analyze the survey results, and plans to seek input from industry experts as part of the assessment exercise. The Working Group expects to make specific recommendations to the Federation Board in late fall. The recommendations will then be shared with the community.
An executive summary of the survey report, and the full report, are available at www.Jewishottawa.com/giving/reports.