By Taylor Blewett. Photo by Julie Oliver/Postmedia
Ottawa Community Housing has been granted a $167.9-million mortgage from the federal government to build 698 new housing units across three sites on Gladstone Avenue, rentals it plans to make available to a spectrum of tenants with low to moderate incomes.
“This is the future of affordable housing in Ottawa,” Mathieu Fleury, OCHchair and city councillor, said at the Thursday announcement of the federal financing commitment.
With $167.9 million from the feds, Ottawa Community Housing is building 700 new rental units in Centretown West
“These three communities of mixed use, mixed income and mixed density will attract tenants of diverse backgrounds of all ages and incomes.”
For now, just how affordable these units will actually be remains unclear. While 211 units have been earmarked to rent for less than 80 per cent of the neighbourhood’s median market rent, and 179 will be reserved for tenants from priority groups, such as seniors, newcomers and those facing mental health and addictions challenges, OCH was not immediately able to provide figures showing the rents it anticipates charging for units in the new developments in Centretown West.
“We’re pulling all the levers we can to make the housing as affordable as possible on day one,” said Cliff Youdale, OCH’s chief development officer. “We have to make them financially viable. We have to pay mortgages and all that good stuff. However, as time progresses, we have the ability to control the rents, and we can slowly drop those rents as we service debt and if there’s ever any programs that we can layer in.”
The most developed of the three sites, expected to be ready for occupancy next summer, is Rochester Heights Phase 1 at 811 Gladstone Ave. It’ll consist of 32 townhouses and 108 units in a mid-rise apartment building, with 5,000 square feet planned for amenities.
The other sites – Rochester Heights Phase 2 at 818 Gladstone Ave. and Gladstone Village at 933 Gladstone Ave. – are still undeveloped land, with plans for both to become mixed-use, mixed-income communities with both affordable and market residential units available for rental and for purchase.
These projects represent a new era in housing and community creation said Catherine McKenney, city council’s housing and homelessness liaison.
“You want people of regular incomes, you want people of modest incomes, and you want people of low income … It means that people live together, our kids grow up together.”
While McKenney believes OCH is working to achieve that mix among its eventual tenants in the new builds, they’re also cognizant of the fact that “OCH can only do what they can with the funding they have — it really is about everyone coming together and ensuring that the communities we’re building are going to be available to people of low income.”
With the era of social housing construction long passed – Ottawa’s rent-geared-to-income portfolio is capped at about 22,500 units, while some 10,000 households are on the waitlist – other resources must be deployed to get people in housing need, into housing they can afford, McKenney explained.
Building new housing at or slightly below market rent, like the Gladstone projects, is critical. But so too are housing allowances that allow low-income tenants the ability to move in, and stay there.
“We know what works. We just need to replicate it,” said McKenney.
OCH plans to launch a webpage with information and eligibility criteria for those interested in renting at 811 Gladstone.
The other two sites are tentatively scheduled for completion in late 2022 or 2023.