New affordable housing project receives grand opening in London’s Old East Village

Cutting the rope outside of Embassy Commons in London, Ont. on Feb. 28, 2023. Andrew Graham/980 CFPL

More than two and a half years after breaking ground on the project, the Christian charity Indwell on Tuesday marked the official grand opening of its new affordable housing development in London’s Old East Village.

Constructed on the site of the former Embassy Hotel, the Embassy Commons project contains 72 geared-to-income residential units, along with common areas, outdoor amenities, and addictions and psychosocial supports.

Work on the three-storey project, located at the corner of Dundas and English streets, began in the summer of 2020 and was completed last year. Embassy Commons’ first tenants began moving in at the start of November 2022.

Along with Embassy Commons staff and officials from Indwell, London Mayor Josh Morgan was on hand Tuesday for the grand opening, in addition to London MPs Peter Fragiskatos, Arielle Kayabaga and Lindsay Mathyssen, and Greg Nash and Sean Warren of London InterCommunity Health Centre.

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In a statement, Morgan said the new units represented not just housing, but also compassion and commitment to those in need of support.

“Those who occupy these units will have a dignified and safe space to call home in addition to a wide variety of healthcare and related supports. The City of London is deeply committed to this work, and we share with our partners in celebrating this occasion,” he said.

Among those now calling Embassy Commons home is 55-year-old Shawn Russwurm, who moved into the building in December.

“I love it here at Embassy Commons,” he told Global News with a laugh. “It’s a lot quieter than the other building I was in, a whole different atmosphere, different people. Whole different attitude down here.

“You have staff here that takes the worry and stress out of day-to-day living. Even if you’re having a bad day, you have a friend to talk to.

“Previous places didn’t do the one-to-one basis, you didn’t really get to know them, you were just a number. Here they know you by name, and they get to know you and they single you out once in a while to see how you’re doing.”

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Russwurm didn’t plan on coming to Embassy Commons initially, but says a subsequent visit helped change his mind.

“I came down and took a look and thought, maybe with a few adjustments with furniture, letting go of a few things, that it would work out for me, and it’s worked out tremendously.”

Embassy Commons tenant Shawn Russwurm, 55. Andrew Graham/980 CFPL

All three levels of government have pitched in millions to support the development, including $13.2 million from the federal government through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, along with $2 million from community donations.

Ottawa and the province have also contributed nearly $1 million to the project through the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative, while the city has contributed around $5 million.

“Access to supportive housing is the key to success for many people living with visible and non-visible disabilities,” Kayabaga, MP for London West, said in a statement.

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“Today’s announcement will help reduce the significant barriers faced by London residents living with disabilities in accessing housing and is one of the ways our government is taking important steps to ensure all Canadians have secure and stable homes.”

In a statement, Fragiskatos, MP for London North Centre, said that working with the province and local community partners was “crucial” in ensuring that those in need have access to housing and social supports.

“As a result of today’s announcement, we are acting to meet the unique housing needs of our city so that residents of London can be safe and can continue to thrive,” he said.

In addition to London, Indwell operates housing programs in Hamilton, Mississauga, Peel Region, St. Thomas, Waterloo and Woodstock.

Embassy Commons is one of two Indwell housing programs in London. The other, Woodfield Gate Apartments, is located at 356 Dundas St. near Waterloo Street in the downtown core with 67 units.

The charity is also attached to Vision SoHo Alliance, a joint venture involving six non-profit housing developers with a plan to turn the former South Street Hospital grounds into an affordable housing complex.

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In total, the development will see the creation of more than 680 units, more than half of which will be available at different levels of affordability.

For its part in that project, Indwell will repurpose the former Victoria Health Science and War Memorial buildings into a total of 138 “deeply affordable” units.

Vision SoHo Alliance held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site in October, with the bulk of construction slated to begin this spring with completion dates in 2024 and 2025.

The grand opening of Embassy Commons comes just over a week after the city unveiled its anticipated plan to combat homelessness in the city through housing supports, integrated care planning, and 24-7 safe spaces, among others.

Like other Canadian cities, London has seen a significant uptick in the cost of housing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February 2020, the average sale price of a home in the London and St. Thomas market stood at $445,535, rising to $616,065 a year later, and a record $825,221 a year after that — an increase of 85 per cent in two years.

Key interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada over the last year have cooled the housing market — the average sale price was around $585,252 as of January — however, rents in the city remain high, while decades-high inflation continues to put pressure on people’s pocketbooks.

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Thousands of people remain on London’s wait-list for subsidized housing, and hundreds of others are on the city by-name list, a real-time list of those experiencing homelessness in the community.

According to the website, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the city stood at $1,770 as of February — down slightly from the month before, but still 25.5 per cent higher than February 2022. A two-bedroom, meanwhile, costs $2,142 on average, up 27 per cent from a year ago.

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, housing is considered “affordable” in Canada if it costs less than 30 per cent of a household’s pre-tax income.

The average total pre-tax income of households in London was $95,700 in 2020, or about $7,975 per month, of which 30 per cent would be around $2,400.

For one-person households in London, the average pre-tax income was $50,640 in 2020, or about $4,220 per month. Under the CMHA’s figure, affordable would equal roughly $1,266 or less per month.

— with files from Sawyer Bogdan and The Canadian Press.

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