There’s a lot of talk about the struggle to create options for low-income people looking for a decent place to live and the need for a plan from all levels of government to make affordable housing happen. There’s also a lot of talk back from developers about how it’s just not financially feasible to make affordable housing work.
But a project near Fairview Mall has defied those beliefs and could well be used as a case study for what can happen when everyone cooperates.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has recognized a rental building in north Toronto as an example of best practices in affordable housing.
“We’re very proud of the building and how it’s going,” says Cary Green, principal with Greenwin and VP Development of Verdiroc, a Greenwin partner. “The building is full and has a steady waiting list.”
The Harold Green Building is a 14-storey apartment complex located at 121 Parkway Forest Dr., near Don Mills Ave. and Sheppard Ave. E. It was built in 2006 under a special program that saw three levels of government contribute to the project. On Nov. 18, Verdiroc was given the award from the CMHC, recognizing leadership from the private sector.
“I love living in this building,” says tenant Elena Popa, one of the original tenants who moved into her one-bedroom unit July 1, 2006. “The building seems more like a condo than a regular building. I feel that by not having any of my family here in Canada, the Greenwin family has become my family. Everyone is very nice and ready to lend a helping hand. The building is very clean and very well taken care of. I feel very safe in this building.”
The proximity to the subway and central location to Sheppard Ave. makes it ideal for her, Popa says, and the building helps accommodate her other means of transportation — her bicycle. “We have a bike room where I can store my bike and make sure that it’s safe and sound,” she says.
The building offers 232 rental units including four bachelors, 97 one-bedrooms, 106 two-bedroom and 25 three-bedroom units. The cost to rent is $750/month for bachelor units, $951 for one bedrooms, $1,144 for two bedrooms and $1,351 for three bedroom. Tenants are a mix of family and non-family units, supportive housing and regular housing units as well as those on social assistance.
“The only people who know (about residents who receive government assistance) is the property manager, and we have never had any difficulties,” says Green. “We have people from the Canadian Mental Health Association living here as well as from Accommodation, Information and Supports (which provides permanent affordable housing for singles and families recovering from mental illness), as well as 30 units from the city’s affordable housing waiting list,” says Green.
There is also a Ontario government-funded Early Years Centre serving children and their families from the neighbourhood on site. “We have a stroller parking lot, it’s great,” says Green. Verdiroc Development Corp., a company that was founded in 1978 and whose principals are also partners in Greenwin, built the apartment complex. “At Greenwin, we’ve been doing various forms of affordable housing going back to the 1950s. We have a history of building affordable, non-profits and co-ops,” says Green. All the rents are established under an agreement Greenwin has with the CMHC and meet the rental test for the previous year.
“Developed under the city’s Let’s Build pilot program, it gave us an opportunity to turn our land equity into affordable housing, with input from various levels of government, and create rental stock on a subway line,” says Green. “This was the first new affordable housing program in almost 10 years.” The building, which cost $32 million to build and is considered a green building, was made possible because the city agreed to waive the development charges and the property tax for 25 years as a way of matching the funds the province and federal government contributed under the Canada-Ontario affordable housing program.
After the 20-year mortgage from CMHC is up, there is a five-year transition period where the building can go from the current program to open market rentals. But if another supportive program comes into place, Green says it will be adopted.
“For us it’s a long-term investment rather than a short-term investment,” he says. "The CMHC award is significant," says Green. “This is the first year they’ve recognized private sector groups in affordable housing,” he says.