In what could be a historic development for the capital, the Ottawa Community Housing Corp. announced Wednesday it purchased land in Little Italy with the aim of turning it into the city's first planned mixed-income community, complete with a French-language public school.
OCH, the city's social housing agency, purchased three hectares of surplus federal land at 933 Gladstone Ave., nestled between Preston Street and the O-Train corridor — including the property that is expected to serve as the entranceway to the future Gladstone LRT station.
The deal with Canada Lands Corp., which sells surplus federal property, was finalized on May 11. OCH president Stéphane Giguère said the agency negotiated hard to get the final price down to $7 million.
Trying not to repeat past social housing errors
The plan for the area is to build a mixed-income community, already dubbed "Gladstone Village," which will combine affordable and subsidized housing with market-value housing. The new community could include a French-language school for about 400 students, commercial and retail spaces, as well as greenspace.
Mixing subsidized and market housing is an idea that has been tried out in other communities, such as Regent Park in Toronto, but never in Ottawa. Coun. Diane Deans had suggested a similar project in the Heatherington-Albion community, although that never went anywhere.
"The vision is not to repeat the mistakes of the '50s and '60s where we in essence ghettoized all of the poor in affordable housing communities," Mayor Jim Watson told reporters after the announcement. "It was not good for those families, it was not good for the rest of the community."
He called the new development a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to plan a development where people of varying incomes can live, work, walk and access rapid transit.
"We believe this will be the next great neighbourhood in Ottawa."
Few details of plan, but expect density
Officials had few details about how the community is expect to unfold, although OCH plans to launch community consultations within the next few weeks, and hopes to have them completed by the end of the year.
However, city sources told CBC News the new site could accommodate anywhere from 600 to 1,300 affordable units, depending on the type of funding OCH is able to secure and what the demands are for different sorts and sizes of housing.
It's still unclear what the ratio of subsidized to market-value homes will be for Gladstone Village, or whether OCH will sell some parcels of land for private development or rent them.
One thing seems clear: residents should expect a dense neighbourhood, with a tall building at the site of the future Gladstone Trillium Line station, which is not planned until after 2018.
"I look forward to the day when this area is filled with feet and bikes and trains," said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who added that she raised her first two children in Ottawa Community Housing.
"There will be some highrises, there's a transit line here," said McKenney. But she also said that the development will have to "fit in" with the adjacent residential neighbourhood, taking traffic and transitional heights into consideration.
'Huge need' for school
It's expected to be more than a year before ground is broken, although the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (CEPEO) would like to be operating a new school in the village within five years.
It's currently renting space for its Centre-Nord d'Ottawa school opening this fall, and the lease runs out in five years.The board will have to secure about $12 million in provincial funding to make the project a reality.
Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi, who's the MPP for Ottawa Centre, said there is a "huge need" for a French-language public school in the city's core.
In addition to the three-hectare site purchased by the OCH, the development will includes a sliver of so-called "right-of-way" land owned by the city that includes a multi-use pathway.
And Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who chairs the OCH board, said he'd be lobbying the federal government to donate another couple hectares of land immediately to the north of 933 Gladstone Ave. In the 2017 budget, the federal government set aside $202 million to make surplus buildings and land available for affordable housing developments.
However, Public Services and Procurement Canada is still using the land in question.