Old Warehouse Converted Into Affordable Housing
There is new life even in old warehouses. In Victoria, British Columbia, a derelict industrial building has been converted into a 25-unit apartment complex providing permanent, affordable rental accommodation for working adults with lower incomes. The transformation of Pembroke Mews was made possible thanks to a joint initiative of the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) and private-sector developer Knappett Projects Inc., and received assistance from all three levels of government, including through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The building is located in a light industrial area north of downtown Victoria that is beginning to be redeveloped for mixed residential and commercial use. The target group for Pembroke Mews is single adults with lower incomes.
“Rents are very high here, and lack of affordable housing has been identified as one of the barriers preventing people who work in lower-paying jobs in retail, hospitality or similar sectors from furthering their career goals or upgrading their skills, because they’re spending so much time and money on their housing,” explained GVHS executive director Kaye Melliship.
“To get ahead, you need to have a decent home so that you’re safe and secure; it needs to be quiet so you can advance your work, and it has to be affordable so you don’t have to work just to pay the rent. We’re selecting lower-paid workers who, by having this housing, will be able to move on to better their careers,” added Melliship.
The genesis of Pembroke Mews goes back to 2009, when GVHS entered into an informal agreement to build a mixed-use development with general contracting and construction management firm Knappett Projects Inc., which owned the property. “Company owner John Knappett wanted to make a contribution to society, so we were introduced and we came up with a plan,” explained Melliship.
Assistance for the $ 4.3-million project included grants of $250,000 from the City of Victoria (Victoria Affordable Housing Fund) and $375,000 from the Capital Regional District’s Housing Trust Fund; and donations of $100,000 from the United Way of Greater Victoria, $30,000 from Coast Capital Savings and $25,000 from the Home Depot Canada Foundation Affordable Housing Grant Program. Through its Community Partnership Initiative, the Province of British Columbia facilitated mortgage financing of $1.95 million. GVHS also received $600,000 from CMHC’s Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) — Conversion, Rental Housing, to undertake the warehouse conversion. In the early stages of the project, CMHC also provided Seed Funding and Proposal Development Funding.
“Staff at the CMHC regional office are wonderful to work with,” said Melliship. “They are very responsive and supportive and interested in what we’re doing. And they were invaluable in helping us navigate through the process of applying for RRAP. We’re very grateful to have received the funding.”
The finished building has been receiving positive feedback from the community on everything from its well-thought-out, simple yet modern design to the suitability of the location for the target group — close to the commercial districts where they work.