Property developer offers affordable alternatives

At a recent forum on problem housing, a McCauley resident recalled how she’d come home to her rental unit to find a notice that it was being closed. She was being evicted, through no fault of her own.

It’s a familiar story for Ken Mcleod, a local housing developer. He’s converted several large houses into suites to fill a need for those with little choice.

“That’s the premise,” explained Mcleod. “People on fixed or supportive income only have so much to work with. I provide housing alternatives so we can make it a little more affordable for people.”

The suites, most within walking distance to shops and LRT stations, are located between Chinatown and 118 Avenue. Because they’re built inside houses, they appeal to his clients’ leanings.

“People want that—a homey feel with a yard, an exterior entrance,” said Mcleod.

His most recent project is a three-storey house on 115 Avenue with four suites and a finished front yard. Work is being completed in the backyard. Another renovation involved an engineer to add head height for a basement suite, and another house has a new boiler system.

“It has new electrical, plumbing and heating, windows, insulation, and drywall. The newer boiler system, which has heat lines running under the floors, gives every suite complete control over their own heat, compared to the original furnace that was controlled by one person for the whole house,” said Mcleod.

He’s had to gut many houses completely to get the quality he wants—self-contained units with a bathroom and kitchen.

What gives his company, Mcleod Properties, an edge is not only the quality but a solution-based alternative, mostly to men either in transition or on assistance. A common example is a single working male who is either looking for work or between jobs. While his background is architectural technician, he said he sees his work as a form of ministry.

“I’m sitting on the edge of the desert and I provide a house for people coming out of the desert,” he said. “We’re trying to provide an environment that is safe and secure and quiet and feels like a home for people.” 

Mcleod started by buying rental houses. Then 15 years ago, he began a men’s home to help them transition into a private space. It started as a kind of recovery house, offering men with addiction problems a place to stay.

“I was the guy who could help them out because I was in the rental business anyway,” he recalled.

It has since become lodging for men who can’t work for medical reasons. They get a room and meals, but also rules—men only and there’s no smoking, drugs or alcohol.

It fills a need, said Mcleod.

“I have people come to me who are on assistance, saying they’re being turned down for accommodation.”

His company’s clients are not exclusively male or single, and he gets calls from agencies who need reliable, affordable housing. In co-operation with one agency, he’s provided accommodation for two single mothers.

Another organization, Homeward Trust, works with housing agencies, property managers and landlords under their Housing First program toward the goal of eliminating homelessness in Edmonton. They work with self-contained units only, so reliable landlords are essential.

“Landlords who are developing relationships with us and being part of the team have been critical to the success of Housing First program,” said Susan McGee, Homeward Trust CEO. “If they’re not committed to reaching out to the agency and working with them, we can’t work with them.”

When it comes to city-wide neighbourhood development, it’s important to have a planned approach. And with affordable housing, the aim is inclusion.

“It’s important to have a variety of residents—students, young families, single people,” explained McGee. “It’s great to hear when a landlord is able to create affordable housing. It creates diversity.”

She’s aware there are some concerns with low income housing and said there’s an increasing demand for secondary suites to add to Edmonton’s housing stock. But it needs to be done with health and safety in mind.

“If housing isn’t well managed and healthy, it doesn’t contribute to somebody’s stability,” she said.

Mcleod Properties helps tenants with things like furniture or pointing them toward social agencies. At times, support is in the form of work.

“As much as possible I’ll try to provide a little work for some individuals, whether it’s cutting lawns, painting fences, or shoveling snow,” said Mcleod.

Operating rental properties means adhering to regulations and being hands-on helps.

“No community wants poorly-run rental units … as a landlord I realize that and try to be on good terms with folks in the neighbourhood, and try to keep the properties looking presentable.”

Two years ago, he bought and renovated an apartment building near Chinatown because there was a need in that area.

“It’s what I like doing. It gives you a chance not only to have a job, but you’re actually helping people.”

Featured Image: Ken Mcleod is a local housing developer who provides affordable housing options. | Rebecca Lippiatt