A higher calling: Waterloo region churches sell land to build housing
As the cost of finding a place to live in Waterloo region sky rockets, several local churches are adding to the housing stock.
At least four churches in the area have sold land to create housing.
The former St. Mark's Lutheran Church and St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Kitchener, and St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Waterloo sold to charitable developers who specialize in supportive affordable rental units.
Between the three projects around 120 new affordable units will be created.
All Saints' Anglican Church in Waterloo sold land to a developer who will build homes to be sold for a market rate. The church says the proceeds will go to building a new community centre.
HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT
At St. Peter's, the church will continue to operate in one wing of the building, while charitable developer Indwell will build 43 supportive affordable units in the other two wings.
“We believe that housing should be a basic fundamental human right. And as a mission we will do everything in our power to achieve that,” said Pastor Mark Ehlebracht at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.
Ehlebracht said his downtown congregation came face to face homelessness just outside the church's doors.
“Here we are in all our finery and doing our thing, and someone quite literally on the other side of this wall is feeling like a zero, feeling like they didn’t matter,” said Ehlebracht.
No time is set for completion of the project at St. Peter's.
At the former St. Mark's Church, the completion of another 43 affordable units is expected in spring 2023.
'SITTING ON A REALLY GOOD RESOURCE'
At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Bridgeport Road in Waterloo, the construction of 48 affordable units is now finished.
The project was built by Menno Homes, who said it could not have been done out without the leadership of the church.
“They knew they were sitting on a really good resource and they knew that affordable housing was something that they wanted to respond to,” said Dan Driedger, executive director of Menno Homes.
Those who live in the units say living somewhere they can afford is life changing.
“Honestly it’s really touching and I may shed a tear," said Crystal Doherty, a tenant at the building. "But I feel really appreciative that we were given this opportunity and that there are really kind hearted people out there willing to help”
Prior to moving in last summer, Doherty, a single parent of two was paying over $1,500 for a single-room basement apartment.
“It was definitely not affordable and [it] was hard to make it by” said Doherty.
She said she hopes her story will encourage developers to see beyond the bottom line.
“Maybe think about the greater good, and maybe rather than making maximum profit, they would do something wholesome and kind-hearted for someone," said Doherty.
At All Saints' Anglican Church on Northfield Road, they also noticed their land was underused.
“We looked at the property and we thought could we unlock some of the value of the property to try to do something different,” said Rev. Marty Levesque, of All Saints' Anglican Church Waterloo.
Sitting on around three acres of mostly parking lot, the church sold two acres to developer Cook Homes to build around 70 stacked condo units to be sold at market rate.
At All Saints', the charitable act comes in the form of a new community centre attached to the church.
“We decided, yes, we need a church facility for us to meet and worship in on Sunday mornings, but we wanted to make sure the rest of the space is designed to meet the needs of the neighbourhood," said Levesque. "This idea that families and kids have a place to go, whoever you are regardless of denomination or religious affiliation or no religious affiliation.”
The community centre will hold a gym, meeting space and community kitchen, all of which can be accessed free of charge.
According to the Region of Waterloo, there are currently around 7,000 people on a wait list for affordable housing.