Vision SoHo: Creative solutions to designing affordable housing

By Laura Gurr

Law360 Canada (December 6, 2022, 10:38 AM EST) --
Laura Gurr
Laura Gurr
It seems that every day there is a new article about the lack of affordable housing. While the situation may seem bleak, there are groups that are working collaboratively to design and create more affordable housing.

One of those projects is happening in London, Ont. The Vision SoHo Alliance is a unique partnership between non-profit housing developers, the local community foundation, municipal government, the local food bank and Indigenous and community-based service providers. It is the first of its kind, setting a precedent that values the notion that there is strength in unity.

Located on a five-acre former hospital site close to downtown London, the development combines mixed-income housing with tenant support services focused on affordability, accessibility, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. By utilizing a vacant land condominium (VLC) corporation to co-own the land, the group was able to maximize the use of the land for housing and keep the building heights consistent with the community design. The groups will be constructing a shared underground parking garage under four of the new buildings to meet the parking criteria for the entire site. 

The $300-million project will create 684 new rental housing units, up to 400 of which will offer affordability ranging between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation median market rents. Each non-profit will own and manage their individual projects sharing a campus that values green space, walkability, resident interaction and gathering, and interconnected services and supports.

The City of London’s planning department worked very co-operatively with the Vision SoHo group, having regular meetings and frequent communication throughout the application process. After considering a number of ownership structures, the group decided on a VLC so that the land could be registered as a condominium and each land lot unit sold to one of the non-profits before any construction takes place. The city has also worked with the Vision SoHo group to make changes to the proposal to ensure financial viability of the project and that the security posted for the VLC is appropriate.

In order to allow this ownership structure, council approved an Official Plan amendment that allowed each VLC unit to contain multiple dwelling units. Each unit will contain a separate apartment building, which will be used to provide affordable rental housing. This means that each proponent has a separate parcel of land that will be separately controlled and mortgaged. Each proponent owns the brick-and-mortar components of their building and their immediate courtyard area. Each VLC unit owner responsible for their own building’s maintenance and repair, but will contribute monthly to the common elements.

The public reception to this project has been phenomenal. Community meetings were well-attended, and the project proceeded with near universal support from the community and politicians.

Convened by London Community Foundation, the Vision SoHo Alliance includes Chelsea Green Home Society, Homes Unlimited, Indwell, Residenza Affordable Housing, London Affordable Housing Foundation and Zerin Development Corporation. Each individual affordable housing developer has a proven track record, with many years of producing successful, award-winning projects. More information about the Vision SoHo Alliance and its members is available online.

Laura Gurr is a partner with Cohen Highley LLP in London, Ont. Cohen Highley has offices in London, Kitchener, Chatham, Sarnia, Stratford and Strathroy. Laura provides risk management and regulatory compliance advice to condominium corporations, property management companies and non-profit housing providers. 

Photo credit / Vision SOHO Alliance 

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