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Faith group uses non-profit status to build a safe haven

Ottawa, Ontario

The Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) is a coalition, or group, of faith organizations, which provides safe and affordable housing for families in need. The group operates several small rental buildings at different sites around Ottawa, but they wanted to make the jump from single buildings to developing an entire community that is affordable, accessible and energy-efficient.

By using their status as a non-profit, MHI was able to lower their costs and raise enough funds to create The Haven, a 98-unit development that offers a mix of affordable homes, plenty of green space, and a real sense of community.


What was the main challenge?

MHI wanted to build as many units of affordable housing as possible. This meant finding ways to cut costs and increase their budget, without sacrificing quality.

How did they do it?

The group’s main strategy was to use their non-profit status to lower the project costs and raise the money they needed. This strategy included:

  • raising donations from their members to lower the amount of financing and reduce their mortgage payments
  • relying on “sweat equity” from volunteers to complete maintenance, cleaning and other tasks, to keep operating costs down

MHI also identified cost-cutting measures at each stage of the project. These included:

  • an integrated design process (IDP) charrette to find creative solutions to potential problems
  • building the whole community at once, instead of using a costlier phased approach
  • wood-frame construction, to lower the cost of construction
  • energy-efficient features, to cut the utility bills and create a healthy living environment
  • a suburban but walkable location with easy access to transit to give residents the option of going car-free

What was the result?

As a result of these and other measures, MHI was able to build 25% more units than they had originally planned.


What was the main challenge?

As part of their mandate to foster a sense of community, MHI wanted everyone to feel welcome at The Haven, including people of all ages and abilities.

How did they do it?

The group decided to make 10% of the homes fully accessible to people with a disability.

They also wanted everyone living at The Haven to be able to visit their neighbours safely and comfortably. For this reason, they decided to make all 98 units fully visitable, by including features like:

  • zero-grade entrances to all of the buildings
  • wide entrances and hallways for people using a walker or wheelchair
  • wheelchair-accessible washrooms on the main floors

By committing to accessibility early in the process, MHI was able to raise enough money to cover the extra cost of including features to increase accessibility. Doing so also let them choose which features offered the most “bang for their buck.”

What else did they do?

MHI hired an accessibility consultant to make sure every design decision was assessed for its effect on accessibility. To make the entire community feel welcoming, the overall design included elements like:

  • a walkable location that’s close to transit, so the residents are only a short walk or bus ride away from schools, grocery stores and services
  • a multi-use pathway, so that everyone who accesses public transit can enjoy the green spaces, including people with a disability
  • sophisticated storm water systems, to manage water runoff without installing any steep grades or spending a lot of money
  • partnerships with LiveWorkPlay and the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, to provide free on-site support services

Energy efficiency

What was the main challenge?

MHI also wanted to reduce both their energy bills and their environmental footprint. As a non-profit, though, they didn’t have the budget to spend on any expensive mechanical systems.

How did they do it?

To help offset the cost of “going green”, MHI focused on features that would lower their utility bills, but that wouldn’t cost a lot to buy or maintain. These features included:

  • a walkable location next to a rapid transit station, to build community spirit and eliminate the need for residents to own a car
  • passive site design, to increase energy efficiency with little or no added cost
  • high-efficiency furnaces, hot water heaters and heat recovery ventilators, to lower utility bills and provide a steady supply of fresh air
  • healthy, locally-sourced materials, to cut costs and improve air quality
  • double-glazed windows with low-E coatings
  • walls with R24 insulation and R5 continuous rigid foam
  • water-efficient plumbing fixtures and landscaping
  • Energy Star® LED lighting and appliances

What was the result?

As a result, The Haven is aiming to achieve LEED Gold certification. Plus, the energy savings should pay back the cost of “going green” within a few years. After that, both MHI and their residents will continue to save on their utility bills for as long as the community exists.



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