One tiny home at a time: a couple's effort to prevent homelessness in Niagara
Feature Image Nest Niagara

One tiny home at a time: a couple's effort to prevent homelessness in Niagara

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in St. Catharines is $1,480, if you can find one. A senior citizen living alone with Old Age security and the Canada Pension Plan as their source of income will make approximately $1,600 per month, if they are near the top bracket.   

The numbers are similar throughout Niagara. It is an equation that leads to poverty and precarious housing for more and more residents.  

It should not be news to anybody that we are in a housing affordability crisis, it’s a regional, provincial and national issue, long on discussion and short on solutions.   Thankfully, not everybody is satisfied to add just another opinion into the dialogue of this national crisis; there are those who have chosen action in place of words.

Peter and Gina Schafrick have taken it upon themselves to find one of the many solutions needed to turn around the worsening situation, which impacts the younger and older generations most acutely.  


Peter and Gina Schafrick. Their Niagara Nest website asks property owners with enough space in their backyard to "act as a compassionate friend to their new neighbour."

(Ed Smith/The Pointer)


The couple lives in Pelham but for the past nine years has attended St. George’s Anglican Church in downtown St. Catharines. As active members of their Church community they volunteer in the many outreach programs St. George’s administers, including a daily breakfast program for those in need, initiatives that heighten their awareness of the lived experience of people living on the edges of society.

In response to what they continue to see, as the cost of living grows further out of reach for many on a fixed income, the couple created Nest Niagara, a not for profit organization that focuses on the housing needs of seniors who are on the verge of homelessness.  

Gina applied her skills as a licensed architect to design a tiny but efficient living space for seniors that could be constructed on site, or pre-built and dropped on site, while Peter worked on the myriad administrative tasks.   

The couple chose to focus their energies on the growing situation senior women find themselves in, when they are single, often widowed, and on the verge of homelessness.  

According to data provided by Wendy Thompson, Program Manager at Niagara Region, “there has been a dramatic increase in the number of seniors applying for Community Housing across Niagara. Currently, there are 3,887 seniors on the Centralized Wait List. In 2019 there were 2344 on the list, which is a 66% increase in five years.”  She calls the need for Community Housing for seniors in Niagara a desperate situation.

A 2020 Brock University report highlighted the gravity of the situation. It identifies a perfect storm that contributes to the “wicked problem” of affordable housing in Niagara and how that wicked problem bears down with the greatest force on the vulnerable portion of the population. Older adults are, sadly, a fixture of this segment.  

In response Nest Niagara proposes to construct fully functional living spaces for senior women at risk of homelessness, and offer these homes to them on a geared-to-income approach…you pay the rent you can afford to pay. While the creation of geared-to-income housing is a role traditionally filled by various levels of government or larger community service organizations, the Schafrick’s note that: “Governments at all levels are simply pointing fingers at each other and little is being done to move the needle on more permanent affordable housing solutions.”

Under the Nest plan, property owners donate a portion of their backyard to allow for the installation of a tiny home that would house a senior in need. Nest will have the house built and will be responsible for its maintenance while the property owner will allow for hook up to pre-existing services (hydro, water, sewage).  

In the words of Gina Schafrick, “It’s about empowering communities to address the housing crisis on a personal level, together.” It’s an approach they describe as built on the compassion of the community.  

The project is funded by donations while the rental income generated will cover the ongoing maintenance costs of the homes. 

They have signed on four property owners so far, willing to donate a portion of their yard; they expect to sign up the fifth one very soon.  

Having the sites secured, they are now turning their energy to fundraising. The cost of each tiny home can approach $130,000 and if things go according to plan, Nest Niagara will start to build their first units in the near future.

The Schafrick’s are intent on helping those they define as being in imminent danger and say that the combined strengths of the community will be a paramount part of the solution.  

They freely admit that the solution they are offering is not a “silver bullet” to a problem as large as the housing crisis, but for some of the most vulnerable among us they believe they can make a world of difference.

Those who wish to support them or learn more can visit:



Email: [email protected]

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