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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Canadian Ingenuity Develops Glebe Lands

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 25 March 2003 00:00

Increasingly, first-time housing developers are coming from Canadian non-real estate not-for-profits. Their lack of hands-on expertise is offset by a burning commitment to fulfill housing needs in their own communities.

Glebe House in Peterborough, Ontario is one example of what ordinary Canadians can do in partnership with professionals and community groups. The "learning experiences" of Peterborough's collaborating groups may serve as an excellent foundation for a development in your neighbourhood. Let this Peterborough housing adventure inspire you to look for opportunities in your area to add affordable housing at income levels and lifestyles relevant to your surroundings.

Glebe House was designed to house mid-life women (to the developers, that's ages 45 to 65) who are currently living in isolation or on low incomes. The housing problems faced by this group were revealed in a research study, "Economic (In)security of Mid-Life Women," coordinated by the Older Women's Network (OWN).

Clarifying and quantifying housing needs is important in building credibility for your project and provides financial decision makers with something to support their lending. But it may not be the first step you take.

Sometimes a development happens merely because land is available. Peterborough's St. John's Anglican Church owned land that it didn't need, but did not want to sell. However, the minister was ready to see the site used for affordable housing and creative thinking led to a solution.

"Glebe land is property owned by a church that the minister may use anyway he chooses to raise funds or collect payment in kind like crops from a farmer or rent from a storekeeper," said Kathryn Langley, treasurer of Peterborough Chapter of the OWN, explaining why the property was named Glebe House. "There was a building on the property that was originally the rectory, but they (St. John's) did not want to sell. We did not have a problem with the property and the house was in good shape."

This boarding-house-style, shared housing project was renovated to provide 6 bedsitting rooms in its 5,000 square feet of living space. The first floor bathroom and kitchen are barrier free and the first floor bedsitting room is wheelchair accessible.

With the land in hand, the Church and its partners, the Peterborough Community Housing Development Corporation (PCHDC), OWN and the City of Peterborough, divided the other responsibilities including fundraising.

"We drew up a budget that was about C$100,000 and decided the Church would do any ongoing major things like a new roof or porch as the Church owned the building," said Langley. "PCHDC was ready to handle the daily expenses and tenant issues would be covered by OWN's Tenants' Issues Committee."

Volunteers helped ensure that renovations complied with municipal by-laws and safety regulations and they chipped in with decorating to help cut costs. Langley estimates that more than 1500 volunteer hours of labour were contributed by individuals and other local community groups. The project came in under budget at C$70,000, but there are always things that are needed, so fundraising continues.

PCHDC approached OWN, perhaps expecting a large, well-funded organization, only to find a small but very committed group that made up for financial shortfalls with determination and persistence. If you can't decide which groups would be good partners for your project, contact Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Partnership Centre in Ottawa for some ideas on this and other financial considerations.

Is there land lying idle in your neighbourhood? Which organizations share philosophies and community mandates that would make them compatible partners? Where is the greatest gap between need and available housing?

Don't be shy about spear-heading a housing project that you'd like to live in. These Peterborough residents prove that while the impossible may take a little longer, it does get built.

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