Drop-In Centre buys highrise for subsidized housing
A Calgary alderman is bristling at the Calgary Drop-In Centre's purchase of a downtown apartment tower for subsidized housing without informing city hall.
The centre bought the 24-storey Sundial Apartments at 6th Avenue and 8th Street S.W. for $18.5 million about two weeks ago, funded by a recent $7-million provincial grant, proceeds from a building sale and a $7-million mortgage, executive director Dermot Baldwin said Wednesday.
"We analyzed this for a lot of years and we wait until the timing suits [us] and the price is right and this is such an opportunity for us," he said.
The centre, which runs one of Canada's biggest homeless shelters, plans to shift homeless clients to affordable units in the tower as current tenants leave over time.
But Ald. John Mar, who represents the area, said the transaction was done without consultation with the city.
"We've had no communication between ourselves, our office and the Drop-In Centre," he said.
Mar said he supports affordable housing projects, but there has to be better co-operation.
"When you have process, you get buy-in. You get community buy-in. You get stakeholder awareness. You engage the community, and then you're not ram-rodding something down people's throats. What you're doing now is achieving consensus," Mar said.
City staff were outside the Sundial on Wednesday, taking photos for Mar, who says he's launching his own investigation into the project.
The Drop-In Centre has sent letters to existing tenants to assure them it will honour current leases.
"What can I do? Tell me. They can ask me to leave any time, right? I don't know what kind of people are coming in. All low-income people are not bad," said Mohamad Kazi, who lives in the building.
Baldwin said buying the existing building is cheaper than constructing one. Because the centre won't be creating new programs out of the tower, it also means less red tape, which has been the challenge for the Mustard Seed Street Ministry, another non-profit agency that helps the homeless.
Mustard Seed wants to build an affordable housing tower at 10th Avenue S. and Centre Street, but has run into delays as the proposal works its way through city approvals.
More than 4,000 homeless in Calgary
Baldwin said up to half of the Sundial's 119 units will eventually be shifted to subsidized housing.
Reg Knelsen, who has been living and working at one of the Drop-In Centre's shelter for three years, is looking forward to moving into the Sundial.
"I will be able to eat my meal and cook it myself — small things. I have slept on a rubber mattress now for years. I'm looking forward — I hear there's such a thing as cloth mattresses," he laughed.
It's still not clear how many people will move in right away; the Drop-In Centre said that depends on how quickly suites become available.
The city's bi-annual count of its homeless population, conducted in May 2008, found that 4,060 people were homeless, an increase of 18 per cent over 2006.