Elmira-based MennoHomes is now known as Beyond Housing.
“Our values haven’t changed, just the name of the organization,” said executive director Dan Driedger.
“It was something the board has been considering for a while. We wanted to be more reflective not only of the community that we serve, but the people that support our work and are involved in our work as well.”
He said that while the organization started out with strong Mennonite roots and continues to be supported by the Mennonite community, there are other groups coming alongside that are not Mennonite.
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“That was part of the impetus. As we were thinking about what that name change might look like, we wanted something that was a bit more of a mission statement around what we’re doing, as opposed to a simple name. With Beyond Housing, our hope is that that communicates that in addition to affordable housing, we also provide other things that are beyond or more than what’s required.”
He is referring to some initiatives the organization has that, well, go beyond housing. That includes hiring a community service worker, and also expanding the role of a community nurse they work with, along with exceeding building code expectations for reducing their buildings’ footprints and also regarding accessibility standards.
“What we’re trying to do is more than just housing, we’re trying to create places for people that they can call home.”
The organization’s most recently completed build is 48-unit affordable apartment building in Kitchener at 544 Bridgeport Rd. E.
It was built in partnership with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and Parents for Community Living.
The organization is also working on an addition to the Sprucelawn Apartments for Seniors in St. Jacobs. The project is coming along, says Laverne Brubacher, chair of the Sprucelawn committee for Beyond Housing.
“The building is now out of the ground, and we’re expecting the concrete slab floor pieces to come this week,” he said. Construction is expected to be complete in fall 2023.
The group is still looking for an additional $1 million in community fundraising for the capital campaign fund.
The Sprucelawn build will add 28 more affordable units for seniors, including 20 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom units. The entire building will be barrier-free. The new addition will include a room big enough for 100 people where residents can host get-togethers, as well as post-boxes so they don’t need to walk into town to get their mail. There will also be a parking spot for every apartment.
Sprucelawn and MennoHomes (now Beyond Housing) amalgamated a year ago to present a joint funding application to the region.
“We agreed mutually that it’s best for us to amalgamate with MennoHomes. They had the experience of applying for federal and provincial and local grants and so forth,” said Brubacher. Before the amalgamation, he was Sprucelawn’s board chair for about 14 years, and sat on the board for 19 years.
There were a few barriers to getting the Sprucelawn addition started, said Brubacher. He said there were issues acquiring some of the land needed, and then more money was needed to do the site condition study and soil study as well as some remediation due to a railway, among other issues.
“Maybe I’m the stubborn one, but we had it in our heads that this thing was going to be built no matter what. And we would get the funding one way or another, even if we had to raise it all ourselves,” he said. “Affordable seniors’ housing is a necessary thing.
“I live in the neighborhood here, and a lot of the people that have lived at Sprucelawn have been part of the churches in town.”
Sprucelawn Apartments for Seniors was developed in the early 1980s when members of three churches in the town recognized the need for affordable housing in their community.
“This is a continuing legacy, I guess you might say, for what we’d like to see going forward.”
The apartments in Sprucelawn are considered affordable, and residents can apply to have their rent subsidized to reflect their income.
MennoHomes was founded in 2001. The organization builds and rents affordable housing in the region. So far, the organization has provided 230 households with homes. They provide units beginning at 60 per cent of average market rent rate due to government grants and private donations.
“We need to ensure that there are affordable places in our community for seniors where they can also live with dignity.… I think that it’s important to provide housing, affordable housing, which is difficult to get these days, in whatever way we can,” said Brubacher.