A $150-million development on the former South Street hospital lands will include more than 300 much-needed affordable housing units to help address London’s housing crisis.
In total, more than 600 apartments will be built in seven buildings on the former Victoria Hospital site. The London Community Foundation is bringing together six housing agencies in the city to build a development each on the 2.4-hectare parcel of land on South Street between Waterloo and Colborne streets.
Indwell is renovating and repurposing two heritage buildings on site, the former health services building and former War Memorial children’s hospital. The other agencies will build new apartments.
“To my mind, this is the best thing that has happened in affordable housing in London,” said Greg Playford, London Community Foundation board member and longtime housing activist, who helped drive this initiative.
“All these groups have had trouble finding lands. There is not a lot of zoned, affordable land available.”
Playford, who also has his own housing consulting business, believes the development will have a value of more than $150 million.
“This has been a priority for the London Community Foundation,” he said of developing affordable housing.
The foundation has a $20-million fund from which it will provide early-stage loans to affordable housing builders.
“We have been interested in this area for some time. We have been watching. We called the group together and said, ‘Here is the opportunity.’”
There are more than 5,000 Londoners on the waiting list for affordable housing and hundreds more in shelter spaces and tents.
Of the 300 affordable housing units, more than 100 will be built by Indwell that sets rents at a level a person on disability benefits can afford. It rents one-bedroom units now for about $550 a month.
The more than 200 remaining affordable units will be 70 to 80 per cent of average market rent, as established by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC’s average monthly rent for London is $1,001 for a one-bedroom unit, meaning an affordable unit would cost $700 to $800 a month.
The remaining 300 will be free-market rents, but the housing providers will look to keep rents closer to the CMHC average, said Sylvia Harris, chairperson of the Vision SoHo Alliance, and a project developer with Indwell.
“London has quite a number of capable non-profit developers who have experience. We are all passionate and want to build as much affordable housing as we can,” she said.
“We can build more housing faster if we all do it at the same time. We all share the risk.”
Construction likely will begin in 12 to 18 months, meaning the development may have its first occupants more than two years from now, Harris said.
As for how the development will be funded, affordable housing providers rely on federal loans and grants through the CMHC, as well as city support. The rents from its market units also will help pay for the federal loans it will use.
Indwell also relies on private donations.
“The federal government is offering attractive financing through a national housing fund that allows non-profits to get low interest financing over 50 years,” Playford said.
That rate is 1.25 per cent during 50 years.
The development is also counting on the city as “willing partner” to help ease the zoning and approval process for building, Harris said.
“We need community engagement,” she said.
As positive as the announcement is, Playford admitted there is “a bit of a hole” because it does not address the need for rental units that are geared to income, needed to house the city’s poor. Affordable housing is a federal responsibility while sheltering those most in need falls to the Ontario government, he said.
The seven-building project will join two Medallion apartment towers already approved, one is now under construction, that are bringing more than 400 additional units to the property.
The designs for the buildings, which may change, said Harris, includes a range of low- to mid-rise buildings and there will be a large outdoor amenity space and underground parking. A release from the city stated there will be 2,600 square metres of outdoor space and 500 square metres of commercial space, along with a planned civic space at the corner of Colborne and South streets.
“We will have the opportunity to see two London heritage buildings, the health services building and the War Memorial children’s hospital, protected and repurposed for a new generation of Londoners,” said Bill Warner, manager of realty services with the city.
“We will also have the opportunity to see the regeneration of a neighbourhood through new employment opportunities and architectural excellence.”