Parkdale Landing converted a former tavern and rooming house into 57 new affordable, supported apartments for tenants experienced with homelessness. The project was made possible by aligning the goals and funds of community and civic partners, and provides an example for how we tackle our affordable housing crisis as a community. – George Qua-Enoo photo

Every community in Canada can find a way to build new affordable housing

The affordable housing crisis is in the news every day. It’s discussed on radio shows, in newspapers, on social media, TV, and at tables of all kinds — from the kitchen table to the council table. In big cities and small towns, from regional centres to Indigenous communities, people across the country are consumed trying to find an affordable place to live. But how do we solve this seemingly intractable problem, and find hope in the face of growing waiting lists and mounting costs?

Our experience at Indwell can provide some inspiration. In the past decade, we have created over 500 affordable, supported apartments, with another 400 under construction and in development. It’s not because of our deep pockets — we’re a charity; it’s through persistent, imaginative effort to find solutions where they weren’t first apparent. Where do we begin?

Start with the big rocks, then fill the sand. When we are developing a new housing project, we have to start with the key measurable outcomes; depth, length, and stability of affordability are three big factors, along with planned supports. If we set goals for how tenants and the community will permanently benefit, we can then work out how factors like land value, construction costs, or development charges affect the results.

It's not because of our deep pockets — we're a charity; it's through persistent, imaginative effort to find solutions where they weren't first apparent.

Sylvia Harris and Graham Cubitt Tweet

How do you find the money to build these projects?” We hear that question all the time, but it’s not a magic formula. The reality is that our communities and our country are not actually poor, but we do have complicated ways of distributing existing resources. We believe that every community in Canada can find a way to build new affordable housing with supports when three things exist; grassroots support, bureaucratic alignment, and political will. It may be possible with two of these, but a solution can always be found when all three align.

Aligning priorities is the key. What does our community — our city, town, county, reserve — want to achieve? Address the complexities of addiction and mental health, revitalize our downtown, end hallway health care, or stimulate the economy? Have kids grow up in walkable communities, or seniors not get isolated in a home they can’t maintain? Building new supportive housing can help achieve these and many other goals with sustainable results. When we start finding alignment between various goals, creativity can emerge.

The reality is that our communities and our country are not actually poor, but we do have complicated ways of distributing existing resources.

Sylvia Harris and Graham Cubitt Tweet

But alignment takes co-operation, and that’s harder than it seems. Collaboration involves bringing what we have to the table and offering it up for the benefit of others. This takes creativity, trust, and goodwill. Then the results can be much greater than any contributor could do on their own.

Our Parkdale Landing project is a great example. The Hamilton Community Foundation provided a 100 per cent mortgage to buy the site, so we could start designing a new supportive housing program based on a specific property, not just a theoretical idea. We worked with St. Joseph’s Hospital and social service and housing partners to identify missing pieces in the housing spectrum. The city provided three years of financing coverage for the development phase. From this stable basis, we actively approached donors — who generously contributed over $5 million inspired by their opportunity to transform lives. These donors were a catalyst for securing $8.3 million from the Federal/Provincial Investment in Affordable Housing and Social Infrastructure Fund programs, as well as $2.4 million from the city’s Poverty Reduction Fund program. By layering these capital funds with supports partially covered by the Ministry of Health, the result is a permanently sustainable supportive housing program where tenants’ rent is roughly $500, huge savings to taxpayers in reduced health and social service costs, and 107 new energy-efficient homes.

Housing is a basic human need, so we need new kinds of creativity to solve the problems of supply and affordability facing our communities.

Sylvia Harris and Graham Cubitt Tweet

This approach is repeatable. The National Housing Strategy’s Co-Investment Fund prioritizes projects that align resources. When a municipality strategically invests, (e.g. through land, development charges, or even expediting the planning process) that raises the proposal’s standing. Add private sector investment and donations, layer a secure funding stream for supports, and meet the highest targets for accessibility and energy efficiency, and the project has a very high chance of success.

Housing is a basic human need, so we need new kinds of creativity to solve the problems of supply and affordability facing our communities. The good news is new solutions are emerging. When everyone involved in the development process keeps their eyes on the end-goal, we can achieve seemingly impossible results. What would it take to build one thousand new apartments in Hamilton in the next four years? How many in Ontario, or across the country? Money follows vision, so we should set ambitious goals and achieve them together.

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on May 15, 2019.

Sylvia Harris
Project Developer at Indwell
Graham Cubitt
Director of Projects and Devleopment at Indwell
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