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Non-profit housing sector provided a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’

Dan O’Reilly
Non-profit housing sector provided a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’

Delivering non-profit or community housing is one solution to address the housing crisis and a number of legislative, financial and social factors are aligning to make that delivery more feasible, says the CEO of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA).

“We are in a once-in- a-generation opportunity to provide housing and there is good will on all sides,” says Marlene Coffey.

By that comment she is referring to community housing agencies, governments at all levels and private sector developers and builders.

Besides that mood of good will, there are some very real practical opportunities, says Coffey.

Founded in 1988, ONPHA is an independent research and advocacy association representing 700 non-profit housing providers across the province.

Just a few months ago the association conducted a survey of its member organizations which revealed that, collectively, they own enough already-serviced land to create 70,000 housing units, either through intensification of existing sites or building on vacant lots.

“We concentrated on Ottawa, Kitchener, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor, St. Catharines, and Norfolk County because that is where much of the population is.”

As well, many community housing groups are now in a better financial position to undertake new projects because many of the mortgages they took out 25 or 30 years ago are close to being paid off, she says.

“But we can’t do it (take on more projects) on our own,” says Coffey.

The association is now in the midst of drafting a “growth and acquisition” funding application to both the federal and provincial governments, says Coffey.

Marlene Coffey Ontario Non-Profit  Housing Association
Marlene Coffey
Ontario Non-Profit
Housing Association

She is welcoming the recent flurry of federal government housing funding programs, such as the Canada Rental Protection Fund. It will provide $1 billion in loans and $470 million in contributions to non-profits and other partners to help them acquire affordable rental units.

Land and funding are two pillars in a three-pronged strategy to provide safe, suitable, and adequate affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents. The third is experience and capability, which the non-profit housing sector has long demonstrated.

“We own and operate numerous buildings,” says Coffey, emphasizing there are four ways non-profit groups can partner with developers and builders.

They include the purchase of not-for-profit housing credits when developers don’t want to act on them; hiring project managers and contractors for its own projects; working on co-development ventures; or managing buildings for the private sector.

Developers and builders might consider becoming associate members of ONPHA which would entitle them to exclusive bulk material purchasing discounts from suppliers, says Coffey.

To learn more about what is happening in the non-profit sector, they might also consider attending the ONPHA two-day conference and trade show in Ottawa, Nov. 7 to 9 at the Shaw Centre and Westin Ottawa.

Titled Building Bridges, it will feature a number of sessions, keynote speakers and modular housing demonstrations, she says.

At this point, the agenda hasn’t been entirely developed. For updates, check the association’s website:

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