Cornerstone Housing for Women-a community ministry of the diocese of Ottawa-has launched a $6.8 million project to convert the former “Mother House” of a Roman Catholic religious community into a home for 42 women needing safe, affordable housing.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful project,” said Sue Garvey, Cornerstone’s executive director, in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal March 3. “The government money made all the difference in us being able to do it.”
Cornerstone received $3.97 million from the federal government and $1.3 million from the Ontario government through the Canada-Ontario Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) agreement, to be administered through the City of Ottawa’s “Action Ottawa” program.
The funding announcement was made at a news conference March 3 in the lobby of the Sisters of Jean D’Arc Institute at 373 Princeton Avenue, the building that Cornerstone plans to redevelop. Among those who spoke in support of the project were Ottawa Bishop John Chapman, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, corOntario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
“The Anglican diocese [of Ottawa] has a strong commitment to building healthy and inclusive communities,” said Chapman. “We are proud of Cornerstone’s track record in developing safe, affordable housing, and we are especially thrilled to see this new project in Westboro moving forward.”
“Thanks to the combined efforts of our partners, we are able to give a helping hand to women in need, and in doing so, we are contributing to the economic and social well-being of the entire community,” said McKenna.
“What a perfect way to pass on the Mother House from the Sisters to our community,” said Naqvi. “Cornerstone’s new development will act as a refuge and support system to women who need it in our community.”
“The City of Ottawa greatly appreciates the contributions of both our federal and provincial partners towards this important project for Cornerstone Housing for Women,” said Watson. “These investments are helping us make strides to prevent homelessness by ensuring that more individuals and families in Ottawa have a safe and inclusive place to live, along with the support they need in order to remain housed.”
Along with the grant approvals, Cornerstone has started a capital campaign called “Building the Dream” to raise another $1.5 million through a variety of means, including individual donations and sponsorships. “We have a pile of things going on to raise that money,” said Garvey. “Every room and every space in the residence, hopefully, will be sponsored by a particular group who will come and help us with the funding for that room, but also to develop a relationship with the women who will be using the services.”
Meetings are being held regularly with a Cornerstone team to discuss issues such as design, construction and zonings, and “working together on all the partnerships to help us provide service for the women who will live there,” she said. “So it’s just partnership building.”
The impressive complex in which Cornerstone will build its bachelor unit apartments was owned by the Sisters of Jeanne D’Arc who, since the 1930s, operated a private school and provided affordable housing for women in the Westboro community of Ottawa. The size of the community of sisters has declined steadily over the years and many have retired, leading to the decision to sell the building and move to other quarters.
According to the CBC, Garvey had met one of the nuns back in 2014 and shared stories about Cornerstone Housing. In 2016, the nun phoned her and said the sisters were ready to sell the Mother House and a vacant lot in the property. The property was sold to Cornerstone for $2 million; the cost of renovating the building is about $4.5 million.
“The Sisters of Jeanne d’Arc wanted to have a legacy in the community and they really wanted to leave their home to a group who had some of the same values and goals,” said Garvey. “They’ve always had such a strong commitment to women and social justice, and that’s who Cornerstone is.”
Cornerstone currently has four residences in Ottawa including an emergency shelter, two affordable and supportive housing communities and a transitional home.
Construction on the Westboro project is to start at the end of July 2017 and be completed in March 2018.