4 min read
24 November 2021

Housing Innovation Starts With Putting People First

Michelle German, VP Policy & Strategy

In June 2021, Karla Medina and her kids finally moved into their new apartment building in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, after navigating Toronto’s shelter system for several years.

“They love their rooms!” she said. “It’s a dream come true!”

The apartment building is, in part, the product of a new housing model, developed from a public-private partnership between WoodGreen, the City of Toronto, Daniels Corporation and SunLife Financial. This model introduced 34 units of affordable, long-term rental housing for single mothers who recently graduated from WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound program. The four-year program helps unhoused or inadequately housed single mothers (many fleeing domestic violence) achieve lasting economic self-sufficiency through housing, employment supports, and more.

The affordable units, each equipped with two to three bedrooms based on family need, are dispersed throughout a new 29-story, 346-unit Daniels redevelopment project in Regent Park.

Karla’s journey to housing has been a long one. A crime reporter in Venezuela, she migrated to Canada in 2013 after being threatened by the Venezuelan government. In 2018, Karla fled an abusive relationship, landing in a shelter while eight months pregnant and with a 1-year old in tow. In the shelter, she heard about WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound program, which offered access to education, child care, housing, case management, counselling and more. Earlier this year, Karla graduated from the program with a full-time job paying it forward, by helping women and girls disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Moving to the shelter was challenging and sad, and it was something that I never expected would happen. But, at the same time, it also gave me the opportunity to be where I am now,” Karla said.

Partnerships are the key to building more affordable housing quickly

Built in roughly 18 months (compared to the 4-6 year standard timeline of most development projects), the new housing units produced in partnership with the city and private sector offer a rapid and scalable affordable housing solution for working-class families.

These solutions are needed more than ever, with approximately 30 per cent of people in Toronto currently struggling to pay for essentials like food, utilities, and rent, underscoring the city’s ongoing poverty crisis, while almost 80,000 families remain on the city’s affordable housing waitlist.

“If we only aimed to build housing ourselves, it would take so much longer,” says Mwarigha, Vice President of Housing and Homelessness Services at WoodGreen. “If we partner in ways that align with our values and focus on finding solutions for the hardest to house, we can get it done.”

This new model is only the latest of WoodGreen’s new housing projects developed using a client-centred, entrepreneurial and collaborative approach. Check out more about how WoodGreen is working with its partners to create more housing by reading our new innovation report.

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