Committee explores ways to help parishes build housing

toronto-development-sign

St Luke NEWS

By Stuart Mann - Director of Communications Diocese of Toronto

“Homelessness is one of the big challenges in Ontario, and the Property Committee and the diocese want to do what we can to combat that and to provide opportunities for people to live in homes,” says Peter Patterson, ODT, the committee’s co-chair along with Stu Hutcheson, ODT.

The diocese’s Property Committee is exploring ways to help parishes that want to redevelop their properties to include both market-level and affordable housing.

 

“Homelessness is one of the big challenges in Ontario, and the Property Committee and the diocese want to do what we can to combat that and to provide opportunities for people to live in homes,” says Peter Patterson, ODT, the committee’s co-chair along with Stu Hutcheson, ODT.

 

Mr. Hutcheson says it can be difficult for parishes to redevelop their properties to include housing. The process requires a lot of time and expertise, especially in legal and property matters. For a parish that sells its property to a developer, the challenges can be even greater. If a developer pulls out of the project or hands it off to another, the parish can have little or no say in the outcome. Buildings are sometimes poorly constructed and managed, and the parish can be treated as just another tenant.

 

In response to those challenges, the Property Committee is looking at creating a template that parishes could follow so that the redevelopment process is easier, safer and more efficient.

 

A sample sign used in the City of Toronto to announce new development on a property.

One of the guidelines under consideration is that parishes retain ownership of the property, giving them more control over the project. Another is that work requiring expertise in legal and property matters is done at the diocesan level, not by individual parishes, to avoid duplication of both effort and cost. The committee is also exploring the possibility of working with a non-profit developer that works with faith-based groups on housing projects.

 

The committee is hoping the guidelines will result in buildings that are environmentally friendly, well constructed, and professionally managed and maintained after completion, and that provide ample worship and community space, as well as a funding stream that supports ministry. The committee would like to see at least 30 per cent of new units devoted to affordable housing, so that a community is created that comprises a mix of residents.

 

Mr. Patterson says that coming up with a template that can be repeated will save the parishes and the diocese time and effort. “You can spend a lot of time going through all the municipality’s rules and regulations trying to get approval for your project. But if you use a template approach that is repeatable, then eventually you’ll know the people on the other side of the table and they’ll be familiar with your process. That will speed things up for approval.”

 

An effective proposal can even result in grants from the municipality or other levels of government, helping to bring down the costs of the project, he adds.

 

He says each redevelopment process is different, so the templates would vary according to the need.

 

The committee is already trying out its ideas with two parishes. “We want to see if the template idea and everything that goes with it can be mapped out and put into action, but that’s going to take a little while,” says Mr. Patterson. The group will report on its progress to Synod Council.

 

Mr. Hutcheson says that even with an effective template, the redevelopment process can take time. “The process isn’t typically fast, as it involves needs assessments, city zoning, site plan approvals, financing arrangements as well as construction. Five years is not an unreasonable timeline from start to occupancy.”

 

Mr. Patterson says the time is right to come up with a template for property redevelopment. “I think we’re in a bit of a new world with our churches after the pandemic, and there are going to be more opportunities for parishes to reconsider their properties and exactly how they would be best set up. There are going to be opportunities for centres of excellence, amalgamations and mergers, and a lot of these are going to end up with property opportunities. It feels like a good time for this to be underway and the diocese to be looking at it seriously.”

 

While building affordable housing is important, it’s not the only thing that parishes can do to address issues of poverty and homelessness, he says. He praises churches, individuals and the diocese for getting involved in outreach ministries such as Out of the Cold and food banks and advocating for a higher minimum wage and other ways to help lift people out of poverty.

 

The diocese presented a workshop to parishes in June 2021 that provided a theological perspective on land and an overall governance framework for development projects. Over the course of that summer, a series of four webinars were offered on a variety of topics that included looking at other faith-based housing projects, planning for inclusion and diversity, ecologically sustainable development, financial sustainability, and looking at development through the eyes of a non-profit developer. A wrap-up and reflection was held in September.

 

Parishes indicated that they were looking for greater clarity and guidance around the redevelopment process and more support from the diocese as they consider whether redevelopment is the next step in their faith journey. The Property Committee’s work in this area is a response to that.

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