A dedicated group of Anglicans has been working for the past seven years to create affordable housing for seniors, and its efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
The group, led by the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, has been transforming St. Hilda’s Seniors Community, a not-for-profit housing complex near Eglinton Avenue West and Dufferin Street in Toronto. The property includes three large residential towers and St. Hilda’s Anglican church.
When work is complete, the complex will have about 500 modern apartments for seniors, one of the largest projects of its kind in the city.
“We’re committed to social housing – it’s part of the ministry of the Church,” says Dean Stoute, president of St. Hilda’s Seniors Community and a former rector of St. James Cathedral.
One of the towers, named after the late Archbishop Terence Finlay, has been fully renovated and is accepting new tenants. The tower has 210 studio and one-bedroom apartments, available with or without support services such as light housekeeping and meal preparation. The tower is about 40 per cent occupied.
A second tower, named after the late Rev. Canon Clifford Ward, is currently under renovation. When completed, it will have 110 studio and one-bedroom apartments, also with or without support services. The third tower, named after the late Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy, will receive some upgrades in the future. It has 120 units, with support services available.
Rent for the apartments is capped at 80 per cent of market-level rates in the local community. Many units are available on a rent-geared-to-income basis, and 80 apartments have been designated for previously unhoused people.
The renovation of the Finlay and Ward towers is being financed by loans and grants from three levels of government. CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), a federal agency that seeks to make housing affordable to Canadians, is contributing $33 million while the province is providing $12 million through Homes for Good, a program that strives to prevent chronic homelessness and help people remain in stable housing. The City of Toronto is contributing $3.4 million through a Social Infrastructure Funding grant.
St. Hilda’s Seniors Community needs to repay about $28 million to CMHC, which it plans to do through rental income over the next five to 10 years.
The towers are being managed by WoodGreen, one of the largest not-for-profit social service providers in Toronto. WoodGreen, which was founded in the 1930s, manages 20 housing sites in the city, where residents have access to an array of support services.
Dean Stoute says it’s important to have professional managers running the St. Hilda’s complex to ensure its current and long-term health. “The skill set to run structures like this, with 500 residences, are not necessarily aligned with the skill sets of a parish priest. You need someone with expertise in managing buildings and residences. That’s what WoodGreen does. They have the managerial acumen that we have faith will keep this project on a positive cash flow basis.”
Kevin Kindellan, a member of St. Hilda’s modernization committee, says the City of Toronto was keen to participate in the project in part because of its location on Eglinton Avenue’s light rapid transit route. “Wherever you have transit, you have density,” he says. “Being able to have affordable housing right on the transit line is something the city doesn’t usually have access to. All three kitty-corners of the property have been sold to luxury condominium developers, so having affordable housing on a transit line is a rather unique opportunity for the city.”
The city is trying to address the shortage of affordable housing units for seniors. According to its figures, there are about 35,000 seniors on the waiting list for subsidized housing administered by the city.
“What we’re doing at St. Hilda’s is significant, but the need is huge,” says Dean Stoute.
St. Hilda’s Towers, as it was originally called, was founded by Anglicans in the 1970s to provide affordable, supportive housing for seniors. Over the decades, it became an assisted-living organization, similar to a nursing home, and was no longer viable. The complex needed a new vision to survive and thrive, says Dean Stoute, and it chose affordable housing.
“We’ve reincarnated ourselves as an affordable housing project that will hopefully provide that service for people for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. “I see it as a sign of the Church renewing itself in a different age, in a different model.”