'A great, great thing': Supportive housing for women in upscale Westboro gets funding
'From the beginning I've had a sense of a neighbourhood that is interested in diversity'
A long-awaited shelter for women at the site of a building once owned by a Catholic order of nuns in Westboro is one step closer to reality after the project received city funding.
Cornerstone Housing for Women has been working since 2014 to convert the Sisters of Jeanne D'Arc Institute "mother house" on Princeton Avenue into 42 bachelor rental suites for women.
The group currently operates several homes around Ottawa, where they provide emergency shelter for homeless women and those who can't afford current market rents.
On Thursday the City of Ottawa announced they'll fund four affordable housing projects — including the Cornerstone project — under its $16-million commitment to provide funding for both permanent housing and programs helping the homeless, according to Coun. Jeff Leiper.
Project began with chance meeting
Sue Garvey, the executive director of Cornerstone, said they are excited to see the project approved.
The Catholic order operated on the Westboro site since the early 1930s and ran a private school and affordable dormitory-style house over the years for women going to school or to a job in Ottawa.
Two years later that nun phoned Garvey, saying that due to a dwindling number of nuns, the order was ready to sell the building and an adjacent vacant lot.
The nuns chose her agency because they share a similar ethos, Garvey said.
"The sisters of Jeanne D'Arc wanted to have a legacy in the community and they really wanted to leave their home to a group who had some of the same values and goals," said Garvey. "They've always had such a strong commitment to women and social justice and that's who Cornerstone is."
The building and land is a development partnership between Cornerstone, Architect Barry Hobin and Uniform Developments. The agency will renovate the "mother house" and the other partners will build infill housing on vacant land located on the site.
But the funding announcement doesn't mean the development will proceed exactly as advertised in October, according to Leiper.
"The Uniform and Cornerstone projects on this property are inter-linked, and the private component will require a re-zoning that will be subject to the usual approvals process, including consultation," Leiper wrote in a recent ward newsletter.
Garvey said more than a year ago they held small meetings with neighbours to ensure people were comfortable with Cornerstone women moving in, and that she and her staff invited people to visit Cornerstone's housing complex on Booth Street.
Garvey was overwhelmed with how supportive the community has been.
"One of the neighbours said, 'You know there is a wonderful green healing space in the backyard and I hope the women of Cornerstone will have access to it,'" said Garvey. Another neighbour suggested installing a community garden for residents and neighbours to tend.
"Not only were they receptive and open to us but they wanted to be assured that the women will be safe because of the backgrounds they've come [from] and living through hard times," said Garvey. "From the beginning I've had a sense of a neighbourhood that is interested in diversity."
'A great, great thing'
"This is going to be affordable housing within Westboro — this is a mind-boggler to me," said Ludington. "Instead of being more million-dollar-plus semi-detached housing … it's just a great, great thing."
Cornerstone hopes to begin renovations this summer with a completion date scheduled for the spring of 2018.
The other affordable housing projects approved by the city include a residence for young people, an apartment building for seniors who want to live independently with some health supports and an addition to a seniors complex in the village of Sarsfield to serve people in the rural, eastern end of the city.