Cahdco’s Affordable Housing Bus Tour

On Thursday, July 4th, Anna Froehlich and Cynthia Jacques gave a tour of four affordable housing developments as a part of the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) national conference that took place in Ottawa.

Written by Kyla Tanner

July 15, 2019

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) annual national conference was particularly important this year as it celebrated the centenary year of CIP, having been established in 1919. Hundreds of planners from across the country came to Ottawa to celebrate the anniversary, including Cahdco’s Anna Froehlich, Cynthia Jacques, and myself. The conference offered workshops, learning tours, and concurrent sessions on a range of topics as diverse as the attending planners’ backgrounds. Session titles included: Planning for Climate Change, Indigenous Health in the City, Age Friendly Community Planning, Supporting Electric Vehicle Charging, Land Use Bylaw Generation 2.0, and many, many others.

In addition to participating and learning at the conference, the Cahdco team was busy preparing its own three-hour learning tour for 30 conference participants. The tour included four affordable housing developments in Ottawa that demonstrated a range of planning approaches and funding strategies: Cornerstone Housing for Women’s Princeton Residence; Multifaith Housing Initiative’s (MHI) “The Haven”; Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation’s (CCOC) Arlington housing; and CCOC’s Beaver Barracks project. During the tour, Anna and Cynthia discussed the successes and challenges of developing affordable housing in Ottawa, possible next steps to further the implementation of the National Housing Strategy, and lessons for planners to help facilitate development of affordable housing, such as holding onto land instead of selling to for-profit developers and providing fee and property tax waivers.

Cornerstone Princeton

On Thursday, July 4th, the group set out on a rented coach bus, thankfully providing air-conditioning on the 30+°C summer day. The tour came to its first stop in Westboro, at Cornerstone’s Princeton Residence, where Cynthia provided background on the first development she worked on upon arriving at Cahdco in 2016. The residence is an adaptive re-use of a former convent for the Sisters of Jeanne d’Arc to create 42 new units of supportive housing for women. The project was created through a unique partnership between the Sisters, Cornerstone, and a private developer that developed the remainder of the block prior. After a serendipitous meeting outside the building years before development began, the Sister’s saw their mission aligning with Cornerstone’s, to provide safe and affordable housing to women in transition, and thereby chose to sell the existing building and portion of the land at an affordable price to the organization. Thanks to this relationship and renovation versus new build, the project was feasible and the building remained a unique landmark of the neighbourhood.

MHI The Haven

Next, the bus drove everyone out to a suburb development in Barrhaven to provide an example of increasing density in Ottawa’s suburbs. MHI’s The Haven, site includes townhouses, back-to-back townhouses, and two 4-storey apartment buildings that provide 98 units in total. Cynthia discussed the project’s success as a transit-oriented development, located a few minutes walk from the Longfields Station on the Ottawa Transitway, enabling residents to access public transportation and reduce automobile dependency.

The City’s Action Ottawa program, including funding contributions from federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government, provided both the land and a capital grant that contributed to some of the construction costs of The Haven. As is the case for nearly all non-profit housing developments, MHI had to fundraise its own equity and take out a loan to cover the remainder of the costs.

The development includes a pedestrian public realm (see photos above and below), the Grand Allée, which stretches the entire site. On the day of the tour, children’s bicycles and tricycles were strewn throughout this space along with an inviting blow-up pool in one of the yards, demonstrating the community aspect desired by the design. Additionally, MHI has an amenity space on site to host events that reflect the multicultural community. The Haven’s success can be measured by its full waitlist of households interested in living there, including for the units listed at Average Market Rent (AMR) prices.

CCOC Arlington

After the trip outside the City centre, it was back to Ottawa’s urban core to see some of CCOC’s newest built developments. The first was CCOC’s Arlington housing, a 16-unit stacked townhouses site so new that not all of the residents have moved in yet. Anna presented this location from the bus, while work was done in anticipation of the landscaping for the front yard.

The Arlington project is built on a site that was already owned by CCOC and formerly occupied by 12 townhouse units that were in need of significant repair. Rather than sink costs maintaining below-standard housing, CCOC made the decision to redevelop and demolish “Arlington Towers” to make way for the new development. CCOC also sold a property to leverage funding to help with the cost of the redevelopment. The building was developed to Passive House standards, meaning it uses far less energy than conventional buildings due to extra insulation, high performance windows, and an airtight building enclosure, among other aspects. The resulting energy savings are passed onto the tenants living in the mix of two- and three-bedroom units.

CCOC Beaver Barracks

The last stop was in the same neighbourhood, Centretown, at CCOC’s Beaver Barracks. Anna led the group through the public realm into the community garden, the centre of the five-building site (see photos below), before discussing the 254-unit project. The project is a leading example of the mixed income model of affordable housing with 60 per cent of the units at varying levels of affordability across three apartment buildings and two stacked townhouse buildings.

The project was designed to LEED© Gold standards and built with sustainability as a priority. It has one of the largest residential geothermal systems in Canada, delivering highly efficient heating, cooling and water heating to all of the units. The site is also home to an ambulance lay-by station and offices, blending with the community around it. Prior to development, the site sat vacant while the city held onto the land for future affordable housing development. CCOC won the Request for Proposals (RFP) that provided the land and some capital funding, also through the Action Ottawa program.

Sadly, the tour had to end at some point. The bus brought the group back to the conference centre while Anna and Cynthia provided a wrap-up on lessons learned over the microphone. Thinking to the future, the National Housing Strategy (NHS) will offer funding beyond what these four projects were able to capitalize on, however, the majority of NHS funding comes in the form of financing versus grants, which the owner will have to pay back with interest. Property tax waivers and fee waivers can determine a project’s feasibility, as seen in The Haven when fee waivers saved the project more than $2 million. But ultimately, none of these projects would have been feasible without having land provided at affordable costs – either by purchasing the land below market value, already owning the land free and clear, or as part of a city RFP – which is a key takeaway for anyone interested in the development of affordable housing.

The remainder of the conference kept Cahdco’s attendees busy. Some highlights for us were sessions on: a study by the City of Niagara Falls that looked at how motels are being used as permanent, albeit precarious, housing for low- and moderate-income individuals in the face of a housing crisis and changing tourism industry; how affordable housing providers anticipate NIMBY-ism attitudes towards projects that involve social inclusion; and creative ways that congregations are adapting their land, including provision of affordable housing. Although Cahdco does not employ planning practices daily, much of our work relates to considerations of urban and regional planners. This year’s conference provided us a chance to share our passions and success stories and the opportunity to find inspiration from others’ knowledge.

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Kyla Tanner

Cahdco Associate

July 15, 2019