An Innovative Partnership for London

This article first appeared in The London Free Press on March 13, 2018.
Written by Hank Daniszewski.

For almost a decade, it’s been an eyesore in London’s Old East Village.

But the empty pit on Dundas Street could become a new affordable housing project with ground-floor commercial space, operated by a faith-based group with a solid track record in such developments.

The Tricar Group, a London developer, recently bought the 0.4-hectare site at 728-744 Dundas for $918,000, well below the asking price. Tricar is holding the property for Indwell, a Hamilton-based Christian agency devoted to affordable housing.

Indwell, founded in 1970, has a history of providing supported and independent affordable housing in Hamilton, Simcoe and Woodstock.

“Indwell’s projects are a catalyst for new economic and social renewal,” said Graham Cubitt, project director for Indwell. He said the agency is eager to work with the Old East BIA.

For Jim Ferriera, who runs the nearby Old East 765 Tavern, a block to the east, the renewal can’t come too soon.

“Empty space really doesn’t help the city whatsoever. Regardless of what kind of structure goes there, it’s a win for everyone,” he said.

Cubitt said there are no specific plans yet for the site, but it’s zoned for residential-commercial use, with a maximum of 74 units.

He said the agency finances it projects with a combination of donations, government grants and financing.

Cubitt said Indwell also is working with London’s Housing Development Corp. (HDC).

Their largest project in the area has been the refit of the former Harvey Woods textile plant in Woodstock to create 54 apartment units, followed by another 26 units in a newly-constructed expansion.

Tricar vice-president Adam Carapella said his company bought the site to give Indwell time to work on a plan.

“We saw the site overgrown for all those years. So, when we were introduced to Indwell, we knew they were the right team to take on this type of opportunity,” said Carapella.

The HDC also is working with another faith-based group, the London Affordable Housing Foundation, which proposes to build a five-storey, 41-unit building called Nightingale Place on a vacant lot at 1039-1047 Dundas St, near the old Kellogg plant.

The lot purchased by Tricar on behalf of Indwell was once the site of the landmark Embassy Hotel. The hotel was shut down in 2009 to allow for a 150 unit condo project. But two months later, the building was heavily damaged by a fire investigators deemed suspicious. The hotel was demolished later. But the condo project collapsed two year later when the developer defaulted on the mortgage and the site has been vacant since. Neighbours have complained about the trash and weeds.

Ward 4 councillor Jesse Helmer said the redevelopment on the old Embassy site is a major step.

“Having that gap in the streetscape has not been good. It’s an important site and one of the few in Old East that has not been slated for development.”

Jennifer Pastorius of the Old East Business Improvement Area said the sale of the site was good news.

“What we are excited about seeing on that site is mixed use residential and commercial. A variety of at-market and affordable housing options.”

Pastorius said the area continues to draw quality independent businesses such as Freeborn and Co, a kitchen and design shop and The Been Garden, a showcase for local projects. A new distillery and two craft breweries also are in the works.

Meg Pirie of the Old East Community Association said there is a need for affordable housing across the city.

“We’re looking forward to learning more detail and having some public engagement and consultations . . . It’s a real exciting time to be in the neighbourhood.