HEARTWOOD PLACE was established in 2001 by a group of local volunteers, led by Mary Bales, who were concerned about the increasing need for affordable housing in our community. From high vacancy rates and low rents in the mid-90’s to a changing economy and lack of government funding, the year 2000 saw many significant changes. Rental housing was costing more, occupancy rates at local shelters were on the rise and many families were sharing housing with others under dire circumstances. The number of individuals, couples and families on the regional waiting list for affordable housing continued to grow.
In addition to the pressure being felt in the housing sector, the founders were concerned about the increasing need for social service programs and the amount of funds which they require. Although all of the volunteers recognized the importance of these programs, they all firmly believed that the first step, the basic need, was a “safe, affordable and adequate” place to call home. Without an address, without a kitchen with decent appliances, without a safe place to sleep, how could anyone think about returning to school, getting a job, improving their health, overcoming their dependencies?
Our name brings together the qualities of "the heart" with the strength of "wood". It also has a special meaning .... "heartwood" is the centre of the trunk, the strongest part, which provides stability and durability to the tree. We all know that everyone needs a "place", a place where they belong, a place to feel safe, secure and nourished. No one challenges the old adage, "Home is where the heart is". Our trademark, designed by local artist Terry Black, portrays a large flourishing tree surrounded by green grass, with a stream and tall trees in the background. This image represents strength, serenity and growth, a statement of what develops in a positive environment and nurturing setting.
Since receiving its incorporation and status as a charitable organization in 2001, Heartwood Place has made great strides forward, but not without some challenges and hard work. An offer to purchase the former Duthler Textiles Store at 19 Gaukel Street in downtown Kitchener was the first major step. Shortly after that, plans commenced to renovate and extend the former commercial/industrial building to provide 33 new affordable apartments. This project was completed in the fall of 2003 and on the second anniversary of HEARTWOOD PLACE, staff and volunteers welcomed tenants into their new apartments.
There were several reasons for the remarkable success of the first project. One key component was the outstanding support from the Region of Waterloo with its grant of $495,000; another was the $450,000 received from CMHC through its RRAP program (Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program) for converting commercial/industrial buildings into residential use. Other key factors were outstanding support from Clarica (now Sunlife Financial) of $300,000 and over $450,000 from local foundations, businesses, and private donors.
Funding the balance was a challenge until we were able to convince the TD Bank that although a recently established charitable organization, HEARTWOOD PLACE should be granted a first mortgage at a reasonable rate. We started off with a conditional approval of $800,000 at 8% interest and through diligence and sound financial proposals, were able to secure $1.6 million at 5%! The bank finally accepted our cash-flow projections which were based on making the project a stand-alone, financially viable operation, with sound management, low vacancy rates and few bad debts.
For the broad base of community support and the wide range of partnerships established, HEARTWOOD PLACE received one of the coveted National Housing Awards for Best Practices in the fall of 2004. Being in Ottawa and participating in round table discussions with the other winners was a very important experience for us. As a result of this, Heartwood Place organized a “Housing Tour” in the spring of 2005 of four winning projects in Toronto. Our staff, volunteers and other providers of affordable housing in The Region of Waterloo visited a wide variety of projects, spoke to the staff and learned about many aspects of planning and developing new projects. Discussions with their tenants, staff and volunteers gave us many new ideas to consider in our future developments.
“HEARTWOOD PLACE ON GAUKEL” was just the right size and the ideal way for our organization to learn about the intricacies of tenant/landlord policies, property management, government guidelines, and most importantly, the strong support which many of our tenants require to make important improvements in their lives. We needed to understand the essential components necessary to help our tenants find stability in their lives and make positive changes for themselves. We were committed to making our vision a reality and we have succeeded in our goal: "That lives of individuals and families will improve and communities of hope will emerge as we provide safe, affordable and adequate housing”.
Creating the appropriate approach to management has required hard work and strong commitment. We have learned that encouragement, guidance and developing a sense of responsibility and ownership are all key components. Keith Faulconbridge, the Superintendent at 19 Gaukel Street, provides a strong, supportive, caring but firm approach which has proven to be most valuable. We now have tenants who participate in the management of the building, including cleaning and maintenance.
The second project for our organization has proven to be a real challenge since the site in downtown Galt, across from the bus terminal, has a long history of contamination. When we first made the offer to purchase the former Cambridge Reporter Building from Torstar, we had studied the existing environmental reports and were concerned about contamination in the area surrounding the ink vat (which had stored ink used in the printing process for many years). Further investigation and analysis indicated that the ink was a minor concern. The entire site contained fill which had been brought in decades ago to bring the grade to an acceptable level. This fill came from foundries in the area and contained pieces of lead, broken bricks, metal bits—a real mix of items—and we also learned there was contamination in the ground water.
Years of addressing this contamination, under the direction of Franz Environmental Inc., finally brought approval from the Ministry of the Environment to proceed with development through a Record of Site Condition. Receiving this, along with a Certificate of Public Use, was a major accomplishment! Having the RSC and CPU means that the contamination could be dealt with in a responsible manner, with respect for the environment and for all future inhabitants of the site. This approval sets a precedent for many other developers and housing providers dealing with contaminated sites in urban settings.
Once the approval from the MOE was received, we finalized plans with the Jamesway Construction Group for the demolition process and construction of the new building which began in the fall of 2009. Having made great progress, the building at 26 Ainslie Street South was completed and ready for occupancy in early September 2010. There are 66 apartments- 40 one bedroom, 19 two bedroom and 7 three bedroom apartments, including 7 accessible one-bedroom apartments. In addition to providing "safe, affordable and adequate apartments" to over 100 tenants, the 7 storey building includes significant features on the main floor. The Reporter Cafe will soon open and provide healthy food choices at reasonable prices. It will also provide training programs/job opportunities for tenants and others living in the neighbourhood. When not operating as a Cafe, the space will be used as a Community Room - an attractive meeting space for a variety of groups, including local non-profit organizations. It will accomodate special events, including music and movie nights. The adjoining Courtyard, with the front wall constructed with bricks from the former Reporter Building, will be a great place to enjoy the out-of-doors for visitors and our tenants. There are already new experiences for tenants who are participating in the maintainance and cleaning of the building. This is an important aspect of our approach to property management and the importance of creating a thriving community.
The cost of HEARTWOOD PLACE ON AINSLIE was $10.622 Million. Several important components contributed toward our success. There was generous funding of $4.62 Million from the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program-Brownfields Initiative. PROJECT HEARTWOOD, our fundraising campaign, raised $1.436 Million. Many significant donors helped us reach our goal! Special thanks to the generous donations of $300,000 from the Waterloo Regional Record, $150,000 from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, $136,000 from The Jamesway Group, $100,000 from Michael and Hennie Stork, $60,000 from The Economical Insurance Group, $60,000 from Gosen Electric Limited, $50,000 from Glenn Sider Plumbing & Heating Ltd., $50,000 from Spaenaur, $30,000 from Farwell Heating Inc. and $30,000 from David and Cathy Sutherland. In addition there was $358,385 from other individuals and businesses, including generous amounts from our Board and Staff. Other significant savings included relief of development charges from the City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo, also $99,000 from the City of Cambridge under its Brownfield Grants.
By working together with Franz Environmental, the Jamesway Group and all levels of government, our committed Board Members and other enthusiastic volunteers have succeeded to achieve our goals! It's a handsome building, constructed with Insulated Concrete Forms which are both environmentally efficient and cost effective. The mechanicals are first class and the materials are durable and easy to maintain. In summary HEARTWOOD PLACE ON AINSLIE is a wonderful place for more than 100 people, including single mothers with children, teenagers, people with disabilities and seniors, who are grateful to have a new affordable "place to call home". There are many comments, including "This is the best apartment I've ever had" which makes the hard work worthwhile!
In addition, the building is a positive contribution to the surrounding neighbourhood and the renaissance of downtown Galt. It is clearly a “win win” for everyone involved. We are grateful for each and every person who has helped us along the way - and to those who will continue to help us as we make plans to develop our third site. A special note of thanks goes to the staff at Lutherwood and the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank who have been welcoming and very supportive, both to the staff at HEARTWOOD PLACE and our new tenants.
HEARTWOOD PLACE looks forward to other opportunities for providing more “safe, affordable and adequate housing”. This may occur through building more housing ourselves and may also come through new and creative partnerships with local builders and developers who bring their experiences as an enhancement to ours. We may also develop a property management program through which we offer management to organizations and landlords who have built affordable housing but are not interested in providing on-going management.
We know that we have established the understanding and skill set which is essential to making affordable housing a sound investment for everyone: for the residents, for their neighbours and for our community in general. Building the housing is only the first - and sometimes the easiest - step. Making it a great place to live, an enhancement to the surrounding neighbourhood and to our region is the critical achievement. Only then will the “communities of hope” grow and benefit everyone.
Another “community of hope” is developing at 107 Young Street in downtown Kitchener. The offices for HEARTWOOD PLACE are located in a century home just three blocks from our first project and within an easy walk of many services. As our staff members work together and enhance each others talents, a strong sense of community and well-being has emerged. Our committed and capable board members and other volunteers, all share high standards, a great appreciation and respect for those who benefit from our efforts, and a clear reason to move forward, in spite of challenges which we encounter. We are fortunate to receive strong support from all levels of government, agencies with whom we work on a regular basis and a broad range of generous and committed donors. We all believe firmly in what we are doing and we all see many wonderful changes in the lives of our residents. At the end of the day, that is what really counts!
Contact us at (519) 745-9315 to learn more.