The City of Ottawa is seeking councillors' OK to spend $18.5 million on church lands to be used as a supportive housing site.
The land, which totals more than three hectares, sits at the northwest corner of Kilborn Place and Lamira Street on the western edge of Alta Vista.
The site is owned by the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall and includes a vacant building formerly used as an office, residence and a seminary where priests were trained.
The city says the negotiated price is considered reasonable and is asking councillors to approve the agreement of purchase and sale, according to a report to council's finance and corporate services committee made public on Thursday.
"There was no listed price for the property, but staff understood through discussions with the broker that the owner hoped to sell the property for approximately $20 million," according to the report.
The committee is scheduled to meet on Sept. 5. Council as a whole would also need to approve the deal.
The main building at 1245 Kilborn Pl. has been empty for years and 'needs work in order to be brought up to standards,' according to the archdiocese. (Nicole Williams/CBC)
The proposed purchase, which is pegged to the city's strategy on transitional housing, "is a unique and rare opportunity for the city to acquire lands in close proximity to transit, community services and amenities," according to the report.
If council approves the deal, years of work including community consultation would follow, according to the city.
Long waitlist for housing
The seminary building dates back to the 1950s. It was recently vacated because of asbestos, according to an April 2022 consultant's report commissioned by the archdiocese.
The archdiocese closed it down early during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ivo Valentik, its director of real estate and facilities.
Then, in early 2023, the city asked the archdiocese if it could lease the building to temporarily shelter homeless people, Valentik said. The group put it on the market to see what it could fetch and the city made a formal offer.
"We're in negotiations and hopefully going to sell to them," Valentik said. "It needs work in order to be brought up to standards, which is one reason why we had to abandon it. We simply could not afford to continue to invest more money in it."
The city is well aware the building will require significant investment, said Marty Carr, the councillor representing the Alta Vista ward.
"They'll be undertaking that work in the coming months," she said.
According to the report to committee, the city has begun an audit "to determine the state, next steps and high-level financial implications of the existing improvement."
Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr Ottawa says the need for supportive housing in the city is great, with a waitlist currently numbering close to 400 people. (Nicole Williams)
Carr said the building contains about 100 rooms that could be used for housing, whereas "community centres have been used consistently since March 2020 to house folks simply because the shelter system was over capacity."
Supportive housing is aimed at people who don't need emergency shelter, but require longer-term support.
"It can be a variety of needs, whether it means some nutrition and health, physical assistance. Counselling can be available," Carr said.
There are currently close to 400 people on the city's supportive housing waitlist, she added.
Kamal Fahs, a local business owner, described the neighbourhood as very quiet and mostly home to seniors.
"You don't see many youngsters here," he said.
Local business owner Kamal Fahs says the area around the proposed purchase site is quiet and populated mostly with seniors. (Nicole Williams/CBC)
The presence of transitional housing "might represent an issue to the neighborhood," Fahs said, pointing to high housing prices in the area.
"They don't want the action around here, let's put it [that] way," he said.
But the development might also bring more traffic to his business, he added.
The location is ideal because it's close to a lot of amenities, said Kaite Burkholder Harris, the executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.
"It's close to Bank Street ... groceries, transit, all sorts of things," she said. "There's a lot of land, which is really exciting because there's potential to have a really beautiful mixed community here."
Nearby church also vacant
The archdiocese's St. Thomas d'Aquin Catholic Church is located across the street from the former seminary building and has not been used as a place worship recently.
In June, council approved rezoning the St. Thomas land to allow for a low-rise, mixed-use building.
But Valentik said plans to move the archdiocese's offices to the church building were put on hold due to creeping construction costs during the pandemic.
"We right now don't have a permanent plan on where we will house ourselves long-term," he said. "We're starting to study [the church site] across the road as well as other locations."