Residents band together to create safe, affordable housing
On Aug. 28, Alberta Avenue, Spruce Avenue, and Parkdale residents met at Spinelli’s Bar Italia. The attendees were all concerned about problem properties in their community.
The meeting echoed one held 20 years ago at the same place. Ana Bubel remembers that first meeting, when fellow McCauley homeowners gathered to address the problem of derelict properties in their community. Bubel shared her knowledge to help the residents from surrounding communities who want to follow in McCauley’s footsteps.
“People were leaving,” recalls Bubel. “We wanted to help people stay by providing home ownership options.” Meeting attendees struggle with similar issues. They are concerned for their safety and the safety of some tenants, who are vulnerable to exploitation and violence. Criminal activity is rampant at the problem properties. It seems that complaints to authorities are either unheard, or overwhelming; there does not seem to be effective means in place, or the political will to protect citizens. It has been a major problem for decades.
Concerned residents wanted to buy residential lots in McCauley and build affordable homes. The goal was never to make money; contributors aimed to create a pool of financial resources that would enable conventional financing for modest homes. This fits the new group’s zeitgeist. They want to avoid the pitfalls of gentrification by creating a safe place for everyone, including low-income people, who have a difficult time finding affordable, safe housing.
At first, there was no formal organization of the McCauley Collective. Bubel says their action was based on trust. “We basically wrote IOU’s for people who wanted to contribute.” She was amazed at the willingness people had to work together. “Most gave $3,000 – $5,000. One woman anonymously gave $15,000.”
With the original pool of money, residents bought three lots at $20,000 each. They built duplexes on those lots. Over time, they made seven similar deals.
McCauley residents partnered with local builder, Menno Klaassen of Skill-Tec Homes Inc, who dedicated time and personal resources to help. “Eventually,” says Bubel, “we ran out of money. Menno went to Servus Credit Union and took out a $90,000 line of credit to help us.”
Bubel proudly talks of the 14 projects that were completed. Eventually, the collective ran out of money.
Ever tenacious and determined, Bubel and her fellow McCauley residents formed the Community Investment Cooperative. The cooperative serves as a foundation with a legal team in place, along with realtors and builders. Most importantly, the cooperative is TFSA and RRSP eligible. Their current idea is to buy derelict properties and either renovate them, or tear down and rebuild. Affordability is still a key objective.
The Alberta Ave Collective plans to join forces with the Community Investment Cooperative. Investment in real estate has become more complicated; the least expensive derelict house is approximately $140,000. McCauley residents have shown what can be accomplished with a motivated group of ordinary, engaged, and determined people. Residents of the Rat Creek Press area share similar ideals, and want to collaborate with McCauley. The Alberta Avenue Collective will meet regularly to explore options, most likely in partnership with the cooperative. For more information, or to become involved in this grass roots initiative, contact Virginia Potkins at [email protected].
Featured Image: The Alberta Avenue Collective wants to collaborate with McCauley. | Rebecca Lippiatt