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Here's how former churches will help solve the housing crisis

A former church in Orillia is being repurposed as part of a new project aimed at addressing Canada's nationwide affordable housing crisis.

Regent Park United Church last closed its doors to parishioners in 2018.

Now the site is one of many being redeveloped into mixed-income rentals. It's part of a partnership between the United Church of Canada and Kindred Works, a new development company formed out of close ties with the church.

"Kindred Works is a corporation set up by the United Church of Canada to really reimagine and unlock the potential of church property across the country," says Kindred Works CEO Tim Blair. "We're building a national portfolio of attainable housing on church sites."

The former church is one of eight projects currently in the planning stages. It will have 48 units, which will include a mixture of one and two bedroom options. About 33 per cent will be affordable, with another third highly accessible.

Kindred Works aims to provide housing for approximately 34,000 people over the next 15 years.

"This is the moment," says Blair. "There's a huge need today for housing, for affordable housing and the real opportunity that we have in front of us to keep it in the common good to make sure that we can develop and build today to meet the needs of Canadians that need housing."

Regent Park United Church is one of many that the United Church has closed in recent years due to a decline in its congregation. The new program fits the church's mandate of helping the community. Not only will the new development provide affordable housing, but it will also work to maintain other aspects of the property, including a daycare and community gardens.

"The housing piece is definitely about meeting the needs of people who otherwise wouldn't have access to housing, and that is an important commitment for the United Church as a whole," says Jody Maltby, the staff lead and communities faith minister for the United Church of Canada's Shining Waters Regional Council.

"For us regionally as well though, it's about maintaining the potential for community space in the area and also a sustainable long-term income source to support other ministry as well."

David Constable is one of the architects involved in the project, with Kindred Works relying on his company, KPMB Architects, on one of its first projects at a downtown Toronto church.

"Our firm is best known for some of our more complicated institutional mixed-use heritage integration project," says Constable. "It really became apparent that a lot of the skills that we had been developing for rethinking how we deliver projects, how we create sustainable projects, how we create inclusive projects were actually a perfect fit for the goals and aspirations of Kindred Works and the United Church."

City council is working with the developers to rezone the property from institutional to allow it to provide medium-density housing.

"If you speak with any municipality, any mayor of any municipality within the province, I'm sure they are going to tell you that the number one issue is likely housing and the cost of living, which is tied to housing," says Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke. "So it is vitally important. It is a crisis, and whatever we can do as a council to my mind anyways, I can't speak for all of council, but I know there is a fair bit of support on council to support a project like this."

Constable says the project in Orillia will be an all-electric building, something all of the new developments will have in common.

"The entire point of doing this as a portfolio is to try to spread the development costs over many projects, which really allow these projects to be viable in locations where they otherwise wouldn't and also allowing us to build to a higher standard," says Constable.

The goal is to have shovels in the ground by the end of the year. Top Stories

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