OCH and PAL Ottawa partner to create affordable homes for Ottawa’s senior arts workers
This past May, Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) announced that it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with PAL Ottawa to create 80 new units for senior arts workers in Ottawa’s Corso Italia Station District. A minimum of 40% of the new units will be affordable or highly affordable.
We caught up with Cliff Youdale, Chief Development Officer at OCH and Catherine Lindquist, PAL’s Co-Chair, Housing Project to learn about this new development and the partnership between the two organizations.
OCH is Ottawa’s largest community housing provider, housing roughly 32,000 tenants in 15,000 units. Their clients include seniors, parents, children, couples, singles and persons with disabilities.
PAL Ottawa provides arts sector workers aged 55 and up with services including affordable housing, personal support and links to the local arts community. The organization is known for its its ‘Supporting Cast‘ program, which supports arts workers experiencing long- and short-term illness and/or disability. Catherine tells us that PAL “embraces all arts workers [including] visual artists and spoken word artists and people who work behind the scenes in administering the arts or as technicians”.
The groundwork for this project was laid when the organization was formed in 2012. Catherine tells us that their board at the time ensured “that there was a policy in the City of Ottawa’s Action Plan for Culture that specifically related to pursuing senior arts workers’ live/work space”.
Catherine tells us that they undertook a feasibility study with an experienced housing consultant and architect to get “a sense of what would be required in a residence and some core costs”. With all the passion and drive PAL Ottawa had to create housing, “one thing I feel we were missing”, says Catherine “was the proven affordable housing experience or a partner, and the philanthropic investors. That was the catch-22 – you really can’t secure investment until you have a solid site or a partner”.
PAL was in a holding pattern until they initiated discussions with an affordable housing consultant and some private developers. Catherine tells us “we had the opportunity to meet with Ottawa Community Housing, and I think there was a real synergy from the start”. Members of each team had previously worked together, so it seemed like a natural fit.
Cliff elaborates about the partnership: “we’re undertaking a fair bit of development in that neighbourhood between our two sites; we hope to bring over 1,000 affordable housing units. We fully understand that to have a healthy community, a vibrant community, we needed to bring in partner agencies to help support community benefits… so we had an open-door approach to how we might make this work”.
Cliff continues, “One thing that drove us down this road was that this particular area has a history with the arts… and so there was a real intent with some of the folks that are involved in that community to try and retain that theme as it gets redeveloped so that doesn’t get lost”. He tells us that for OCH, PAL’s project “ticked off a lot of boxes for us. There’s the affordability – that’s number one. It was a group that hasn’t received a lot of affordable housing that I’m aware of. There’s been very little that has focused on artists in the Ottawa area, and we’re aware of the successes in Vancouver and Toronto – this focused type of housing. When we looked at all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together this seemed to be a really good fit where we could meet our affordable directives, create a dynamic neighbourhood, and [work with] a group that probably couldn’t build something this size on their own. We’re leveraging a skillset we have for an agency that might not otherwise be able to do this”.
The development’s 80 units, affordable and market rent, will be reserved for PAL’s client community: senior arts workers. “What we’re hoping to do”, Catherine tells us “is to have creative spaces as much as we can within a mixed affordable [community]”. She cites the common areas in OCH buildings that are designed to foster community engagement. Catherine says that PAL’s hope is that similar common areas in their development can be “usable by arts workers for visual artwork, performances, [which] means we’ll have to [install] some special lighting and have some flexible seating – that’s the goal”.
PAL and OCH are looking to create these multi-use creative spaces throughout the building, as the budget allows. They are also keen to utilize the wider neighbourhood for creative spaces. She tells us “there is a small park nearby called Piazza Dante that’s going to be refurbished and we’re hopeful that our residents will be able to use that”. Catherine cites an example from Vancouver’s PAL that uses a local park to hold a small jazz festival each year. “Perhaps” she says, “our residents could help animate this parkette close by and really engage the community and neighbourhood. That’s an example of the type of thing that we could bring to the community”.
Catherine tells us “we already have a waiting list of over 100 applicants that represent a mix of different types of arts workers and different ages [55+]”. She says that “the next step is for OCH and PAL to work out a more finalized block lease agreement and we’re excited that OCH has hired a well-known architect in the community to do master-planning and architectural design”.
Cliff elaborates “through a competitive process, we ended up retaining Hobin Architecture, who is designing the building across the street from us and is very familiar with our design requirements and our expectations around affordability”. “He continues “one of the interesting aspects of the building is that it’s going to be hyper-sustainable. It will be [built] to a Passive House standard… so it will tick a lot of boxes on the sustainability and energy side which makes it pretty avant-garde in terms of what we’re building”.
“We’re so excited about this partnership and its potential”, Catherine tells us. “I think it’s going to be a real beacon, not just for the senior arts workers that will live in the building, but for up-and-coming artists to feel a sense of support and security in the Capital. We know not all artists earn a lot over their career lifetimes and certainly towards the end of their careers. We think it will be inspiring for them to know that they may have affordable housing, or for those who don’t require affordable housing, to live in a community of creatives”.
From the OCH perspective, Cliff tells us “the core for us is looking at the innovative solutions to maximize the benefit of the vessels we’re creating and the creation of affordable housing and to be a bit more creative in how we deploy [the solutions] as opposed to just straight-up rental, but bringing in people who can maximize the benefits [to the community]”. The partnership, Cliff says, “is really a perfect fit”.
Thinking about developing or redeveloping community housing? Check out Ready, set re(build) – ONPHA’s online course designed to help you succeed in the modernized social housing landscape. The next offering of course will be in September 2021. Have questions about housing development? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you, and to help!
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