London

Posh corner of London to get 55 affordable apartments, thanks to local church

A London church is taking matters into its own hands by building 55 affordable apartments in the northwest area of the city amid an ever-deepening housing affordability crunch.

The units will bolster the well-heeled northwest, an underserved section of the city

An artist's rendering of the Gateway Apartments shows what a London church hopes to build on Bluegrass Drive in the Sarnia Road and Hyde Park Road area. (Gateway Church)

A London church is helping tackle the city's worsening poverty problems by building dozens of affordable apartments in the northwest area of the city.

Gateway Church received city council's blessing last month to build two L-shaped buildings with a total of 80 apartments units, 55 of which will be offered at an affordable rate on a five-acre parcel of land on London's Bluegrass Drive. 

The badly needed project comes at a time when the city is experiencing an ever-deepening housing affordability crunch.

Not only is the waiting list for some form of social housing thousands of names long, a recent report out of city hall said London's fleet of public housing stock is badly mismanaged with too many vacant units sitting idle thanks to overlapping housing agencies that provide inadequate oversight. 

All of this is set against a backdrop of intensifying poverty and drug addiction made worse by rising rents and booming real estate prices in the city. 

'A thousand dollars and under'

Rick Boyes is the lead pastor at Gateway Church in London. (Gateway Church)

It's why the church wants to keep costs low, so people can live "in dignity," according to Rick Boyes, the lead pastor at Gateway Church.

"We will purposely keep the rents, most of the rents, to a thousand dollars and under," he said, noting the exact rate will be determined by the City of London. 

The project is being called "inter-generational" and looks to include a mix of older people, aged 55 and up, and younger people including young mothers and couples looking to start a family. 

Boyes said the property will also include parks, gazebos, a soccer pitch, a splash pad and a skating rink in the winter. 

"We want it so that people will actually want to live here," he said, noting the entire community was designed with only one thought in mind. 

"If you don't want your family member in there then we don't want to build it," he said.  

Posh neighbours opposed project

Steve Lehman is the city councillor for ward 8. (City of London)

Steve Lehman, the councillor whose ward 8 constituency includes Gateway Church and some of the city's most well-heeled neighbourhoods, said the new affordable units are badly needed in his part of the city.  

"We actually have 133 affordable units in my ward, which out of 8,000 units across the city is not a great representation," he said, noting that despite the shortage, it still took some convincing to calm jittery neighbours. 

"There is a stigma attached and people in the neighbourhood expressed concern that it would be attracting recovering drug addicts or a criminal element or some unfounded concerns," he said. 

"What they don't see is that affordability is affecting everybody. There are many people that are trying to get by or are having trouble paying the rent."

'We're trying to get it right'

An artists' rendering shows how Gateway Church wants to develop its Bluegrass Drive property, with two L-shaped apartment buildings, a soccer pitch and a number of other amenities. (Gateway Church)

Rick Boyes said there were a lot of misperceptions from the community when it came to what the church was trying to accomplish.

Most people couldn't tell the difference between the affordable housing Gateway Church was trying to build and the geared-to-income housing offered by public housing agencies in places, such as Limberlost Boulevard or Boulee Street. 

"What we've found is to get rid of the stigma you need to mix your housing," Rick Boyes said. "By mixing the housing price points you get a stronger community." 

It means neighbours living in the new units won't have any idea who is paying rent at or below the market rate. 

"We're trying to get it right, we're trying to be inclusive," Boyes said.

"We're trying to elevate what we're trying to create here so that there's a dignity to everybody that would live so that they're part of the community and part of the neighbourhood."

Gateway Church hopes to get shovels in the ground within the next year, with the first tenants moving in by 2021. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca