Property manager Anna Moore is trying to move away from the Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds scenario and more toward the Golden Girls as the population continues to age.
She's combining the best of both worlds.
The president of AMR Group, which still oversees student residences in Barrie’s college district, has been pushing an idea where she places people together in their 50s and 60s, and even 70s in a few cases.
Moore says it allows tenants to save money, while also providing companionship, independence and security. But Moore is also quick to point out these aren't care homes; residents must be comfortable with independent living.
“My heart is really in the seniors right now,” she said during a sit-down interview with BarrieToday at her Blake Street office, adding it’s an idea that’s still in its infancy.
The results, Moore says, have been better than she ever expected.
“They’re so happy,” she said. “I can walk into any one of those houses and they’re going to give me a kiss and a hug. And the dynamics, it’s so funny. The guys are still mushrooms; they’re hiding in the basement.”
At many of the houses, the guys opt for the basement rooms while the ladies plant their flag on the main floor.
“The women are running these houses like they did when they were married,” Moore said with a hearty laugh. “It’s like going to see your grandmother. You just get this warm, fuzzy feeling.”
The women tend to come “with stuff,” Moore observed, while the guys arrive with a suitcase.
On Hickling Trail, there are six people in the house (four women, two men, all single) between the ages of 50 and 70 years old who share two common areas, including the upstairs where they watch television (Dr. Phil, The View), talk about current events or politics (mostly Donald Trump) and brag about their families.
“We usually congregate up here and then in the evenings, we usually all filter to our rooms,” said Laura Pullman, a divorcee who moved in Sept. 1 after having spent the summer in Toronto with her grandchildren.
Pullman, who had lived in Barrie before, said she loves the set-up, because it provides the social aspect while also being able to retire to her bedroom if she wants to be alone.
“We’re like one big family,” she said when a reporter dropped in. “There’s been no issues. When I saw the ad… I was just really keen on the idea. I could keep my furniture, I could have my dog and I don’t mind sharing.”
Pullman said she had high hopes for the housing situation, and her instincts turned out to be right.
“We were all in the same situation where we didn’t want to be on our own, but we’re not in a seniors home yet,” she added. “This is perfect. I wanted a roommate. Well, this is even better than one. I lived on my own for two years and I was very lonely.”
Pullman’s housemate, Nancy Prever, said she saw an ad on Kijiji and jumped on it without any apprehension.
“When I walked in, it felt like home,” said Prever, who is separated from her husband and moved in Oct. 1.
Prever said she had previously rented a room elsewhere, but longed for having people around to talk to.
“I was just stuck in a room,” she said of her previous situation.
Meanwhile, Pullman said her grandkids have visited Hickling Trail and even spent the night.
“They love that I’m in this situation,” she said. “They don’t worry about me. At first, they were a little cautious … but we’re making it home for everybody. There’s no set rules and we all do our own thing.”
Actually, there is one standing rule: if you’re not going to be home, let someone in the house know.
“That’s a good rule,” Prever said.
Despite being in their golden years, there's still a college atmosphere at Hickling Trail, as the housemates share household duties and at other houses Moore manages, she says the residents split the grocery bill.
“That’s the part that’s blown me away, because they’re so cute,” said Moore, adding the guys often take care of minor repairs around the house, which have been “heavily lived in by the students” in some cases.
With shifting demographics, Moore said she saw a “better opportunity” with more mature tenants in the houses she manages.
“As more purpose-built units were being constructed in the city, there was less demand for quality, off-campus housing,” she said.
Moore, who has been in the property management since the early 1990s, said AMR Group operates approximately 400 municipally licensed “doors” (the term she uses for various units, which could be rooms, apartments, homes), mainly in the Georgian College area and within walking distance of the school.
Landlords who operate unlicensed units, however, could have several students sharing a room.
“We were finding it more and more difficult to compete with the other landlords that were unlicensed,” Moore said. “That’s the truth of the matter. The licensed owners couldn’t make it.”
With a greying population, Moore felt she had to embrace a new direction.
“I’m still working with the students and this isn’t going to happen overnight,” she said. “Our marketing plan is to slowly ease our way out of student housing.”
While college students are more apt to regularly let loose, older tenants bring a completely different mindset. Many are coming off a divorce or separation, or have perhaps run into problems after moving in with family members.
“And I was getting older, too,” Moore said. “If you have somebody walking through the door and they’re your own age, saying they can’t afford an apartment in the city, you look at them and realize they might not be as fortunate as you, financially. But you can see they haven’t done anything wrong with their lives.”