London

Old Embassy Hotel site poised to become 72 affordable housing units

Currently a vacant lot in Old East Village, the former site of the Embassy Hotel will soon begin its transformation into 72 affordable housing units.

Indwell submits planning application to build rental units at 744 Dundas St.

Indwell is working with community partners to built a three-storey, 72-unit apartment building at 744 Dundas St., the former home of the Embassy. (Submitted by Indwell)

For years it was the site of the Old Embassy Hotel. 

And in the 10 years since the hotel burned down, it's been an eyesore, a fenced-off vacant lot at the corner of Dundas and English Streets. 

But starting this year, the transformation of 744 Dundas St. is set to begin. The property is poised to become a 72-unit apartment building with one and two-bedroom suites offered at below market value.

Many of the tenants will be those currently without a stable place to live, including some facing daily struggles with mental health and addiction and poverty.

"Most of the tenants will be people from the local neighbourhood," said Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development with Indwell, the Hamilton-based Christian charity backing the project. "They are people who live with a low income and as a result have a severe problem finding good-quality affordable housing." 

The units will rent from about $550 for a one-bedroom apartment to about $750 for a two-bedroom unit, prices well below the going rate in London's surging rental market. 

Cubitt said the units, although small, will be bright and modern. 

"They're very beautifully designed," he said. "We always say that we don't want to build places where we wouldn't want to live ourselves."

The project will also include three storefront commercial spaces in part to integrate the project with its surrounding community. 

Indwell has submitted its plans to the city and is continuing to raise money for the project, which will have a final price tag of $20 million, but will happen with the help of many community partners. 

For example, the Tricar Group, a London developer known for its condo projects, bought the property with the intention of selling it back to Indwell at the same price once the project plans are approved by the city. 

A significant chunk of the funds will come from federal grants along with help from the city's Housing Development Corporation.

Indwell is looking to raise $2 million from the community, and has already raised about a quarter of that total.

Julie Ryan, Indwell's community engagement coordinator, said not all of the donations will come in as cash. 

"There are lots of different ways for people to be involved," she said. "We're looking to furnish some apartments, equip our kitchens and community spaces as well as general construction costs." 

The Woodfield Gate project at 356 Dundas Street is now entirely units renting at below market value. (London Housing Development Corporation)

Ryan said the choice of location was deliberate. 

"We know that there are folks there that need housing," she said. "[For] any of us who drive or live or work in Old East, it's very troubling to see so many people sleeping in doorways. These folks need permanent homes."

This will be the second project Indwell has undertaken in London. A similar project called Woodfield Gate at 356 Dundas St. began taking tenants last summer. 

Originally, Woodfield was planned as a mix of at-market units and below-market units, but now, all 67 one-bedroom units will be offered between $500 and $550 a month.

"That building is doing well," said Ryan. "We opened in July and we're full now and folks are getting settled in." 

She said some of the residents came from St. Joseph's mental health care program, others have come from emergency shelters or outright homelessness. 

"It's really heartening to see people blossom when they're in a situation where they feel safe and they belong," Ryan said.

The plan is to break ground this spring and begin taking tenants in early 2021, Ryan added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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