3 min

Affordable housing versus affordable condos

Developer and Centretown community association square off over SoBa

The SoBa condos at 203 Catherine St are scheduled for completion in 2015. Credit: Courtesy of Lamb Development Corp.
A 23-storey condo development in Centretown has one community association claiming increased traffic will clog up the street and the building will further gentrify the gaybourhood.
Robert Dekker, vice-president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association (CCCA), says his association is not in favour of the SoBa, or South Bank, condos slated to be built at 203 Catherine St. The CCCA takes issue with the increase in traffic the building will bring, the building’s height and infrastructure issues such as the existing sewage system.
Dekker says the CCCA wanted a more complete study to look at the effect increased traffic will have on the one-way street.
“What would happen with the traffic and people having to go around?” Dekker asks. “They would almost have to go in a circle if they were in the wrong spot in order to get into the building. That was something we were hoping would be done, by giving a further transportation study, and it was not completed.”
Brad Lamb, of Lamb Development Corp (LDC), says the unit will add at most 160 cars to the neighbourhood. He says development is a natural progression for cities.
“People can’t have 50 acres and a house. That is not a reality that Canada can embrace,” he says. “We need density in the cities. So anyone that has a problem with density is selfish and is not thinking about the future . . . It’s all about cities. It’s all about density.”
Affordable housing is an ongoing point of contention between community groups and developers.
Ian Capstick, the chair of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area, says the number of condos that go up in Centretown should be equalled by the amount of affordable housing made available. 
“There needs to be an eye towards affordable housing,” Capstick says. “So for every condominium that goes in, there should be an equal number of affordable housing units that go in it. In addition to that, we need to keep a family focus in Centretown.”
Dekker says many active developers in Ottawa build affordable condos for purchase, but that is not the same thing as affordable housing.
“The developers will say, and in some cases they are right, that they are putting in affordable condominiums for purchase. However, affordable condos for purchase aren’t exactly the same thing [as affordable housing],” he says. “Affordable housing is a good rental property that a single person on a low income can afford. Being able to afford a condo at a low cost, that is affordable purchasing.”
Lamb says LDC is aware of the need for affordable housing. He says critics of the SoBa development aren’t aware of his company’s policy that half the units will be sold to investors.
“That investor then rents it to people. These people cannot afford to buy. They are the middle class who perhaps don’t have a credit rating or a down payment or a job that allows them to buy, and so they rent,” he explains. “All our buildings are 50 percent rented. That’s our strategy. We’re one of the only developers who do that, and that’s why we try to bring to people stylish and affordable housing, so that people who don’t have a lot of money can live in dignity.”
A SoBa tenant will definitely feel dignified. The building features exotic premium floors handpicked by Lamb, floor-to-ceiling windows and gas-powered stoves throughout, as well as barbecues on the balconies. Lamb says he conceptualized the building as “exciting, design-driven, stylish housing.”
“This is the most beautiful building. It is going to be the most beautiful residential building in Ottawa,” he says. “Catherine Street is a corridor that needs a facelift. We’re the first canary in the coal mine, and we can’t wait to see people follow in our footsteps.”
As the completion date nears, Lamb says his company is open to conversing with community groups and listening to their concerns.
“Unfortunately, most community groups don’t want to have a dialogue; they want to yell at you and scream at you because you are doing something they don’t want,” he says. “I welcome positive, educated, forward-thinking dialogue with any community group.”
Dekker says this assertion is untrue of the CCCA, and the group wishes developers would consult local residents before going to the city with their plans.
“Let us talk to you; let’s meet and give you our input,” he says. “They don’t always have to take our input, but we’d like to be part of the discussion. It is a well-known fact that developers don’t like to come and talk to the community association. We are open to a dialogue to talk about developments before the application goes to city hall. But it’ll take some time before this becomes a regular occurrence in Centretown.”
Approved by the city in October, SoBa is scheduled for completion in 2015.
Lamb says Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes is vocally opposed to the height of the building. Holmes did not respond to a request for comment for this story.