Downtown office building to be converted into transitional housing

This downtown office building at 230 Queen will be converted into transitional housing. (Alayne McGregor/The BUZZ)
This downtown office building at 230 Queen will be converted into transitional housing. (Alayne McGregor/The BUZZ)

Alayne McGregor

The City of Ottawa will rent an empty office building at 230 Queen Street (at Bank) to convert into transitional housing – a space for people to sleep while they find permanent housing.

Last week, Ottawa City Council approved a 10-year lease for the space, renewable for two more five-year periods. Somerset Ward Councillor Ariel Troster said this would allow an arena in Vanier, now used as a homeless shelter, to be returned to its community use.

“This is a great additional resource that I look forward to welcoming to my neighbourhood,” she said, and noted that it will be an interesting example of a conversion from office to residential downtown.

The 29,634 square feet of office space in the building is expected to house up to 130 individuals. The city expects renovations to be finished and the centre opened by November 1.

The rent will be $4.38M for the first five years, with $1.48M for fit-up. The fit-up will include showers, walls, and other basic facilities, according to Clara Freire, the city’s general manager of community and social services. She said the city is continuing to negotiate with other levels of government to cover the cost after an initial period.

This downtown office building at 230 Queen will be converted into transitional housing. (Alayne McGregor/The BUZZ)
The fit-up required to convert this downtown office building at 230 Queen to housing will include new walls and showers. (Alayne McGregor/The BUZZ)

The motion, moved by Troster and seconded by Councillor Laura Dudas, came out of an emergency shelter crisis task force launched by Dudas and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe last October “to address the unprecedented demand and shortage of shelter beds in Ottawa.” Troster also served on the task force.

Last July, the motion noted, the city had projected to need up to 293 new shelter beds for single adults. Instead, demand is now at an all-time high with 450 clients being served at temporary locations. Three city recreation facilities – the Dempsey Community Centre, the Heron Road Community Centre, and Bernard Grandmaître Arena – have been temporarily repurposed as shelters.

“The scale of the need is unprecedented – even with all the overflow beds we’ve provided, there’s still people sleeping in plastic chairs and in the stands at stadiums overnight, which is completely unacceptable,” Troster said.

She said that the increased demand came from an influx of refugee claimants to Ottawa. “All of our overflow shelters and the majority of our permanent homeless shelters are filled with refugees and asylum-seekers – people fleeing oppression and seeking a new life in Canada. We are appealing to the federal government to support us, so we can ensure that newcomers have the support they need when they arrive in our city.”

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said that the city’s shelter system was not designed to welcome asylum seekers and the city has been talking to the federal government to find solutions.

The city recently opened a former retirement home on Corkstown Road to provide transitional housing for families and has bought a large property on Kilborn Place to provide supportive housing. Dudas said the task force will continue to look for housing opportunities.

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