July 14, 2014
Author: John Fox
Last week the City of Toronto gave the green light to a completely unique project – the creation of 80 units of affordable rental housing to be built right into the Tridel’s new AquaVista condominium. AquaVista, which is expected to go to market in the summer, is in the “Bayside Lands” located between Lower Sherbourne and Parliament Streets. The affordable units will be owned by the City and run by Artscape as residences for artists. The creation of affordable units in AquaVista helps Tridel, who, with partner Hines Canada are developing the Bayside Lands, meet affordable housing targets in the waterfront.
Robins Appleby LLP has been acting for the City of Toronto in establishing the legal framework for this project for the past six months. The project concept – putting affordable units into a condo is new to both the condo and affordable housing worlds. As readers will know, Robins Appleby LLP has a foot in both those worlds, with experience in private development and affordable housing projects. Even with that experience, we’ve not been involved with anything quite like AquaVista before. From a legal perspective, there are some real nuts to crack to make a combined project like this work.
For example, we had to reconcile the condo and rental development processes, the former needing buyers before construction, and the latter renters after construction.
But, for this piece, I want to focus in on the BIG question Aquavista will answer: Will the market respond favourably or will condo buyers balk at the notion of sharing the building with artists? We think the project will be successful and we are joined in this optimism by both the public and private partners involved. Here are three reasons why this project will fly – and in fact fly higher – with the affordable component part and parcel.
First, the building itself – the rendering chosen below shows both affordable and market balconies. Can you tell which is which? One of the key conditions for success is that the building look and feel like a condominium building all around. It is a coordinated design process based on an innovative design concept by architects Arquitectonica in which the front of the building curves wave-like around an amenity filled podium. The building has both location and wow-factor operating in its favour. Who would not want to live there?
Second, urban dwellers relish living in diverse communities. The Toronto Star ran an article in May 2014 which opened with a catchy line about starving artists being poised to join millionaires on the waterfront. The opening misses a couple of points. First, the residents are not likely to be so poor or so ridiculously rich as the line suggests, but more importantly, it ignores the value the artistic presence in the building brings to the new community. Tridel’s expectation is that the presence of Artscape will attract buyers and enhance value. Artscape is responsible for the Wychwood Barns, the Arts and Cultural Centre at Regent Park (where I worked with them as member of the original board of directors), and their CEO is this year’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year in the World (yes, W-O-R-L-D). Point is: Artscape has a brand that contributes.
Finally, I think the project would succeed even without Artscape’s drawing power. The reality is that you can live almost nowhere in our city without being near affordable or social housing of some kind. I live in North Toronto, two blocks from the nearest Toronto Community Housing building. If I walk from Lawrence Avenue to Eglinton Avenue, I pass something like 800 units of low income housing. No one seems to notice because the housing is integrated into the area economically and architecturally. AquaVista is a logical extension of this approach to housing, and a very Toronto sort of a way to build affordable units into a new condo community.
Even with a municipal by-law underpinning the requirement for affordable housing in the waterfront, there is nothing to say that it has to happen in this building and in this way. So I end with kudos to the leadership teams from the City of Toronto (Affordable Housing Office, Waterfront Secretariat, City Legal, City Planning and Councillor McConnell), Tridel, Hines, Waterfront Toronto and our legal counterparts at Delzotto Zorzi, for working to create this new model for affordable housing delivery.
With all of that in mind, industry players will be watching Aquavista with a keen interest as they look to a potential new wave of integrated residential development in Toronto and the GTA.