MennoHomes is ramping up fundraising efforts this fall with the launch of its capital campaign to gather the additional $1.7 million needed to build an affordable housing project in Elmira in conjunction with Woolwich Community Services.
The 25-unit apartment building will be built in the spring of 2016 on the same land as WCS’ new building at the corner of Church Street and Memorial Avenue.
MennoHomes executive director Dan Dreidger said while they’ve been historically rooted in the Mennonite population, this is not a Mennonite project. Rather, it’s an Elmira project.
“We’ve got a group of people from town who are excited about the project and want to make it happen because they’re from Elmira and they have an interest in making the community better, recognize the importance of what we want to do. So they’ve agreed to help as volunteers on a capital fundraising committee to assist me in either identifying people that might be supportive or going out and making requests themselves for funds,” Driedger said.
They’ll be rolling out promotional material over the next couple weeks including a video on their website highlighting someone who lives in downtown Elmira with mobility issues, yet has to climb flights of stairs to reach his apartment. Elmira residents can also expect to see the MennoHomes newsletter in more locations than just churches to help spread the word.
Waterloo Region council pledged $1,703,850 last month for the building as part of their affordable housing strategy. Another $1.4 million has already been raised of pledges.
They’ve been working at fundraising for a year and a half on what’s typically called a quiet campaign, where you approach people that you know are going to be supportive.
When asked where he thinks they’ll find that additional $1.7 million, he says Elmira is a very generous community.
“We’re certainly expecting that there are people who can make pledges even over multiple amounts of years. It’s the typical $2 or $3 a day isn’t a lot of money. And yet at $2.75 a day for three years, that’s a $3,000 donation. It’s tax deductible and we are a registered charity. If enough people even do that we can make it happen,” Driedger said.
Of course they’re looking for corporate large donations because they need those too, but no donation is too small. He says part of the reason the cost of the building is so high is because they have to invest a lot of funds up front in order to have a mortgage low enough that the lower rents are sufficient to carry the mortgage, the operating, and the reserve. He says this is why there’s no private development happening for lower income households with mobility issues, because there’s no money in it for them.
“As a community we have to decide how are we going to respond to help people who have helped build our community, who are our neighbors, our friends, our relatives. This is a very concrete way of doing that,” Driedger said.
The building will be three stories high with one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. Applicants will be assessed by an income test, depending on the size of apartment they request. A certain percentage of those names have to come off the region’s wait list as well because the region has a community access wait list that they use for affordable housing, Driedger added.
“We’re going to have staggered rents, so we want to have a mixed community of people living there. We don’t want it to be just a place where only the poorest or the most needy financially live. We think it’s healthier to have a mix. And there are people of moderate income who also need housing in Elmira. How do we respond to them? There’ll be a range of rents and there’ll be a range of income tests as well,” Driedger said.
They expect to see considerable demand for units from people with mobility issues because it will be the only affordable housing in Elmira with an elevator.
The cheapest one will be just under $500 a month plus utilities. They’ll go up from there.
He says if you pay more than 30 per cent of your gross household income for housing then you’re getting into an area where it’s costing you too much money.
“If you’ve got a couple and one spouse is full-time at minimum wage and one’s part-time at minimum wage, that’s not a lot of money. It doesn’t buy you much and I think it adds up to $34,000 a year or something like that. It works out to almost $600 a month for rent. $34,000 sounds like a nice number, but $600 a month in rent is not affordable. You can’t get much for $600,” Driedger said.
Construction will start in the spring regardless if they’ve raised the final $1.7 million. He says they’ve got enough to get started and once people see shovels in the ground, they might be more inclined to donate.
While this building won’t solve the need for affordable housing in Elmira, it’s better to do something than nothing, he noted.
“We’re certainly thrilled we were able to partner with Woolwich Community Services in the purchase of the land because that was key to this project to have a good, local community partner like that,” Driedger said.
“Neither of us could have done the project without the other.”