HSC SHARE Innovation Event

Sharing Innovative Ideas and Experiences for Affordable Housing Development

Written by Cynthia Jacques

October 17, 2016


On September 16, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend an exciting sector event that took place at the Beaver Barracks in Ottawa. Housing Services Corporation (HSC) hosted a SHARE Innovation Event, “Affordable Housing Development: Built Form, Design and Partnerships”.

What is SHARE? It is the Sustainable Housing Asset Resource Exchange, an initiative led by HSC, which provides a vehicle to “share” insight and best practices on what’s happening locally, provincially, across Canada and even internationally to address key asset renewal issues facing the housing sector. SHARE encompasses a series of events (such as the event described herein), as well as a regular webinar series for ongoing sharing opportunities (upcoming webinars can be found here).

The event was facilitated by Ray Sullivan, Executive Director of Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC). Ray prompted round-table introductions of event participants, noting how far individuals travelled to attend this event. It was interesting to see the diversity of participants in the room, ranging from municipal staff, non-profit organization representatives, architects, Ministry of Housing staff, CMHC, and more. Also notable was the overwhelming number of event participants that had travelled from outside of Ottawa to attend this great event. Participants were from various communities in Eastern Ontario, Kingston, Toronto and surrounding municipalities, with one participant from as far as Vancouver. There was certainly no shortage of diverse backgrounds and innovative ideas with this group!

Event presentations and discussions were categorized under three key themes:

Theme 1: Innovations in built form and energy efficiency for sustainable solutions

Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Women’s Society Resource Centre in BC kicked off the presentation segment of the event by sharing her experience with the Oneesan Container Housing Project, Canada’s first multi-unit container housing development in Vancouver. Inspired by what she seen during her travels in Tanzania, Janice brought the idea of container housing to BC when she found that two BC hydro shipping containers were up for grabs. While the idea was initially met with resistance, Janice’s organization Atira was able to overcome challenges and develop a unique 12-unit housing development for women using repurposed shipping containers. The project was achieved at a low cost of $82,000 per 290 square foot unit, with greater cost efficiencies anticipated for future projects. The project met or exceeded building code standards in all areas, and has received a high level of positive tenant liveability feedback. This project has paved the way for other future shipping container multi-unit residential developments in BC, with a few projects already in the works including a 7-storey building slated to be the largest shipping container housing development in the world.

Next up, Lisa Ker, Executive Director of Ottawa Salus Corporation shared her experience in the development of Salus’ 14th building: a 42-unit development for individuals living with serious and persistent mental illness that is the first multi-unit residential building designed to the Passive House Standard in the northern world. The Passive House Standard focuses on achieving a high level of energy efficiency resulting in buildings that require little energy for heating and cooling. While Passive House has been successfully taken up in many European countries, it has been slow to start in North America. This resulted in some challenges in sourcing certified materials for the Ottawa Salus Passive House project (many had to be imported from Europe) and higher capital costs. Nevertheless, Lisa noted that she would pursue the same rigorous standard on future projects and would encourage other organizations to do the same. The project is on track to achieve 28 tons in CO2 emissions reductions compared to the Ontario Building Code standard, with annual heating costs estimated to be in the range of $27/unit. Lisa explained how this project achieves much more than just energy efficiency, reduced environmental footprint, and reduced operating costs. The project also works to combat the stigma of mental illness and has the potential to change the way the community sees Ottawa Salus and their tenants.

Theme 2: Approaches to building capacity for affordable housing development

The second theme of the SHARE event related to capacity building for the affordable housing sector. Graeme Hussey, Development Manager at CCOC and President of Cahdco, presented an overview of the evolution of Cahdco, starting at its roots – the development of CCOC’s Beaver Barracks project and Cahdco’s first affordable home ownership project, Clarence Gate. By undertaking a strategic planning exercise, developing a business plan, and focusing on “scaling up” projects, Cahdco grew and evolved to become the organization that it is today. Cahdco’s focus and expertise falls into three key areas in the affordable sector: rental housing development, affordable homeownership and social purpose real estate. Cahdco is currently working with several community partners on sector projects, including the Salus Passive House (42-unit development for individuals with mental illness), MHI’s “The Haven” (98-unit family oriented mixed housing development in Barrhaven), CCOC’s Arlington project (redevelopment of family-oriented rental housing in Centertown), future development opportunities at LeBreton Flats, and many more.

Mara Di Pasquale, Chief Financial Officer of HSC, provided an overview of the financial modelling tool that HSC is developing as part of a partnership project with North East Local Health Integration Network and other key stakeholders for the development of supportive housing in Northern Eastern Ontario. The tool allows for inputs of capital costs, equity and financing, operating revenues, and operating and financing expenses, and is designed to model the impact of different scenarios on the overall project viability. The purpose of the tool if to inform a business model that supports decision making on a project. Mara demonstrated the application of the modelling tool for a new build project with financing, and showed participants how the model can be used to assess the impact of changes to one or more variables on overall project viability. This modelling tool will be a great capacity-building asset for housing providers to explore potential options for affordable housing projects.

Theme 3: Affordable housing development initiatives for priority groups & partnerships

The third theme focused on housing development for priority tenant groups and innovative partnerships. Suzanne Le, Executive Director of Multifaith Housing Initiative, spoke about her organization’s new project to develop 40-units of supportive housing for homeless veterans as part of the redevelopment of the former Rockcliffe Airbase in Ottawa. Veterans House is the result of a number of innovative partnerships. A key partnership for this development relates to the acquisition of land within the Rockcliffe Airbase development. The land will be made available for the project through the Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative (SFRPHI) program, which makes surplus federal land available for $1 for projects to help prevent and reduce homelessness. The SFRPHI program is administered by a national tripartite committee composed of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Another key partnership aspect of the project is the collaboration of MHI with Ottawa Salus and a number of military organizations for the delivery of support services for Veterans House. These partnerships will be further defined through a Plan of Care Charrette for the project. Veterans House is a meaningful contribution to the commemoration of the military history of the former military airbase that goes well beyond traditional commemorative statues and street names.

Barron Meyerhoffer, Director of Planning and Engineering for Ottawa Community Housing Corporation (OCH), and Cameron MacLeod, Executive Director of Carlington Community Health Centre (OCH), presented on their unique partnership for the development of the Carlington Health and Housing Hub in Ottawa. Both organizations recognized the increasing need for access to affordable support and services. CCHC was looking to redevelop their existing health centre to better accommodate the needs of the community, and OCH had a desire to expand their housing stock, particularly for seniors. Both organizations partnered together to realize their respective and collective visions through the conception of the Carlington Health and Housing Hub. The project leverages CCHC’s existing site to accommodate the renovation of existing building to create a new clinic and to develop 42-units of housing for seniors on site. CCHC and OCH are expected to break ground on this innovative project before the end of 2016.

The event wrapped up with a site tour of CCOC’s Beaver Barracks development, led by Ray Sullivan. This engaging tour introduced participants to the many sustainability features of the project, ranging from the geothermal heating system, green roof and gardens, to the green initiatives initiated by CCOC for the tenants of the development.

This inspiring, thought-provoking event allowed for the exchange sector experiences from near and far. Presentations from the event can be found on the HSC Website here.

I look forward to future opportunities to “SHARE” innovative ideas about the development of affordable housing with HSC’s network of sector professionals!

Cynthia Jacques

Project Manager

October 17, 2016