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Former foundry site now called home

After a tremendous amount of hard work and community input, the affordable and accessible apartment project being headed by MennoHomes saw its first tenants move into the Elmira building Wednesday.

The building, located at Church Street and Memorial Avenue, has been dubbed “The Foundry” by MennoHomes, in recognition of the Procast metal casting building that had historically stood at the site.

The project is also the first affordable apartment building in the township with elevators to make it accessible.

“One of the main features of this building in Elmira, or that one of the larger needs that we were responding to was to have a building that was accessible for people with mobility challenges. And so a big part of that was making sure this building had an elevator,” explained MennoHomes executive director Dan Driedger.

“Although it’s only a three-storey building, and you wouldn’t be required to put an elevator in there, we had conducted a survey back in 2014-2015 and the feedback we got from the community was that it was critical to have a building that was zero-steps into it, and that somebody with some mobility challenges could comfortably live in, and then also afford.”

There are 25 apartments, made up of 14 singles, nine two-bedrooms and two three-bedroom units. Tenants started moving in this week and will continue to do so until mid-September, said Driedger.

The project took a great input from the community, he noted.

“This has been an incredible response. We will have raised in the neighborhood of $2.6-million for this project above and beyond the funding that we got from the Region of Waterloo.

“And the level of support that we experienced from Elmira, from Woolwich, just around this community, was just very overwhelming and very humbling. People recognized the need, and for them to invest in something like this in their home community just made a lot of sense.”

Overall, the total cost for the apartment was just under $6 million, says Driedger, though the work isn’t over yet. “We’re still going to have a considerable mortgage on the property,” he noted, adding they are going to have to work to pay it off.

In that vein, anyone interested in contributing or helping in any way would see their funds go directly towards the ongoing work for the project. While MennoHomes isn’t likely to do any more big fundraising events for the building apart from the annual bike-a-thon, Out-Spok’n, Driedger encourages people interested in helping or donating to get involved.

First of the tenants to move into MennoHomes on Church St.

The property site of The Foundry apartment building is shared with the new Woolwich Community Services building. The organizations initially pooled their resources to purchase the land together in 2014 and develop the property, installing the appropriate services like water lines. From there, MennoHomes and WCS worked separately on their respective buildings, with MennoHomes beginning construction on the apartments in June 2016.

While the project goes a long way towards filling the community’s need for affordable housing, demand continues to outstrip supply.

“The unfortunate part was that the demand was way more than what we could respond to. There were quite a number of potential tenants who had submitted applications who demonstrated need and certainly qualified, who we just simply did not have enough space for,” said Driedger. “So we had to say ‘no’ to people that we would have like to say ‘yes’ to.”

The Foundry building is likely to be MennoHomes last big project in Woolwich for a while, but Driedger says the organization will continue to work on smaller projects in the community. The organization currently runs six other buildings in Woolwich and Wellesley townships, with the Foundry being the seventh and largest.

With the building finally ready for occupants, Driedger anticipates the site will be a valuable commodity for the community now and tomorrow.

“We’re very happy with the quality of the building, and yet it’s going to provide some very nice basic housing for people in the community for many, many years to come. Like decades – it’s going to stay there for a long time. So we’re very happy to have a building that is well built and will be an asset to the community for many years,” he said.

MennoHomes will continue to own the building and rent it out at an affordable rate for those who need it.

Gordon Bechtel (left) gets a hand from his son Jason as he moves into the building on Wednesday morning. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

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