Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

By John Guido

Katherine Black is a woman with a plan, a “plan for living independently.” On My Own? tells the story of this spunky woman who lives in L’Arche Hobart in Australia. This short film (part of the L’Arche International As I Am film series) is in turn hilarious and touching, informative and entertaining. It’s hard not to root for Katherine, a woman with an intellectual disability, determined to do whatever it takes “to be as free as a bird” – to live on her own, yet remain connected to the people who know and love her, the people “you depend on for independence.”

This film by Michael McDonald and Amber Herkey is a helpful addition to the conversation about a person’s home as not only a place to live, but also a path to increased choice, independence, and inclusion. Like Australia, there has been a shift in Canada away from the group home model towards individualized approaches that give persons with intellectual disabilities more control over where they live and with whom, and what supports they need to thrive. Yet as we see in “The Loneliness Statistic” (with data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics), the move to independence without supports for belonging and inclusion leaves many people lonely and isolated.

The Challenges of Systemic Change

Way back in 2006, Housing for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, a paper written for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), named the gap between the housing people need and the housing that is available. The issue was not just finding the right places to live, but also finding the right supports. They wrote, “Adults, including those with intellectual disabilities, usually want to live independently. They want to make their own decisions on whom to live with, where to live, and what to do with their time. People with intellectual disabilities face extra challenges in working towards that goal, however…” These challenges include limited financial resources, limited support services, an inflexible service system, and fears and questions about safety.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announces Canada's national housing strategy.


In 2018, the Canadian government recognized this challenge of appropriate housing for all persons with disabilities in Canada’s National Housing Strategy – A Place to Call Home. “People with disabilities face unique challenges in accessing affordable and appropriate housing. Inadequate social supports, insufficient financial assistance and inaccessibility of housing units all contribute to the difficulties they may face in their quest to live independently. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live on low incomes as those without a disability…”

Developing Inclusive Housing

The 2006 CMHC paper named best practices for housing for persons with intellectual disabilities: flexibility and choice, individualized funding, and person-centred approaches. And it named housing models that it could recommend as best practices including independent living, co-ops and other forms of co-housing, and (for those with the means) home ownership or adaption of a family home. These remain among the key options being explored today.

A report by the Community Living BC and Inclusion BC Inclusive Housing Task Force, “Home is where our story begins,” lays out a plan to increase what it calls “inclusive” housing. “Inclusive Housing means that people live in homes where they feel they are a part of their communities. They participate and have relationships with people in their community and have opportunities to make contributions and receive recognition. Inclusive housing should provide people with a sense of home and belonging within their community and promote quality of life. Inclusive housing includes the following five elements: Choice and control, Accessibility, Ratio of people with and without disabilities, Diversity, and Sustainability.”

The Canadian Association for Community Living and People First of Canada are leading a national initiative to develop housing options. “My Home My Community (MHMC) has launched three surveys to get a better idea of what it takes to give people with developmental disabilities more choice in the kind of housing they live in. Together, we are confronting the path of dependence and barriers to access that have left people with intellectual disabilities outside of affordable housing markets and community access for generations.”

L’Arche has much to learn – and much to contribute

Over the past decade, L’Arche Ontario and L’Arche Canada have been in dialogue with Greg Bechard whose work with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation was named in the National Housing Strategy as an example of an innovative model of independent yet supported housing for persons with intellectual disabilities. Greg speaks of creating “intentional community” by welcoming Good Neighbours to be part of the housing they have built and the community they are creating. We will write more on this important project and the concept of intentional community as a way to create inclusive housing.

The Vanier Suites illustrate the direction of the L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative. This project and others in various stages of development are bringing the Mission of L’Arche to life in new ways, “responding to the changing needs of our members (current and potential) while being faithful to the core values of our founding story.” This means learning from the experience of those in L’Arche communities (e.g. Arnprior and Stratford) who provide Supported Independent Living. And learning from the Elmira folks and others developing new forms of housing and the business models necessary to develop them. It also means discerning what is essential about the vision and values of L’Arche that must be renewed as we innovate and grow.

While it’s clear that we have a lot to learn, L’Arche also has a lot to contribute to the conversation about building inclusive communities. In fact, that 2006 CMHC paper also named the L’Arche model. “L’Arche was the only group home that was identified as a best practice. L’Arche homes exist in a number of provinces. All are faith-based, geared to aging in place, and feature employees who function more like family members than staff.”

Traditional L’Arche homes where persons with and without intellectual disabilities live, learn, and grow together remain an innovative housing model – as long as they remain places of welcome, are person-centred, nurture mutual relationships and interdependence, and create inclusion in the wider community.

Developing a wider range of options and person-centred planning is key to ensuring that each person has meaningful choice of where they live and the opportunity to follow their dreams. Like Katherine, most of us want to grow to our full potential and have a healthy amount of personal space and control, yet also have strong relationships with our neighbours and the people who know and love us. That’s the recipe for an inclusive community.


A Hero Behind the Scenes

Beyond firefighters, medical staff, social workers and police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there are even more heroes among us. Truck drivers, grocery store clerks, cooks and couriers now rightfully hold an esteemed place in our collective consciousness as they put their health at risk to keep society functioning.

From Hyderabad to Lethbridge Who Would’ve Thought?

After Roop Chittineni finished high school in his hometown of Hyderabad, India he moved to Southern Ontario to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He liked exercising and thought that if he learned more about the human body he could use that knowledge to elevate everyone’s life experience.

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

Stepping Up

When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet.

A Light Ahead

The social distancing caused by the pandemic has been trying. Thankfully, aside from those who have donated their time, money and ingenuity to help L’Arche, there are the health care workers, grocery store clerks and all those on the front line who are helping the L’Arche community get through this crisis. With their help, it won’t be long until the Gathering Place opens again and the community starts making new memories.

Second Life

Kris first met Joanna in L’Arche London, Ontario. She encouraged Kris to join L’Arche, and he did. They lived and worked side-by-side for six years until Kris moved to Nova Scotia. Still, they managed to see each other a few times a year and occasionally called one another about matters of life and faith. But this call was different.

The Gift of Dance

Dance is a profound gift; it’s an artistic expression, a mood enhancer, a workout, a surefire way to impress a date and a form of magic. A dancer can transform into a flower, a lion or their favourite pop star. Above all, dance is an act of joy. (We dare you to wiggle around for a minute and not feel happier than you were before.) The gift of dance, and all it provides, has found its way into L’Arche.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.