Councillors on the Finance and Corporate Affairs committee unanimously endorsed a $18.5-million plan to buy a former seminary in Alta Vista that the City of Ottawa plans to convert into supportive housing.
The vote came after more than two hours of polarized public delegations on the proposal, with residents living near the site on Kilborn Place saying they weren’t consulted, while others cautioned that the vacant site could be a money drain because of the cost of remediation.
“There is a real risk in investing what I understand is the whole annual budget for supportive housing into a single site,” said Jan Menningen, one of the public delegations at Tuesday’s meeting.
“If the costs explodes, is it really the best way to support the population? How long is it going to take to build and remedy this?”
Others, however, spoke passionately of the need for more supportive housing in the city. There are 369 people on the waiting list for supportive housing, which, unlike shelter beds, provides permanent lodging for people with a wide-range of needs, including intellectual or physical disability, or mental health issues or require some other form of support.
One woman tearfully described how she found herself unexpectedly homeless after fleeing abusive parents. Lou Dawoudiah of the Ottawa Mission said clients there strived for one thing: “Men, women, young adults, seniors, people of all diverse genders and backgrounds, all of whom are facing very obstacles and yet strive for one common goal: a home. A stable, affordable and safe environment to live in.”
Mayor Mark Sutcliffe described the purchase as a “huge opportunity” for the city.
“This is exactly the kind of thinking and action we need to tackle an issue like this one,” Sutcliffe said. “”This really gives us options, very good options, and we will be discussing those options with the community before we move forward.”
Sutcliffe also thanked rookie Alta Vista ward Coun. Marty Carr, who helped broker the purchase from the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Ottawa. Sutcliffe and Carr co-authored an op-ed about the purchase that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen two weeks ago.
The enormous Diocesan Centre at 1245-1247 Kilborn Place sits on 8.7 acres of land that Carr hopes will eventually be developed for mixed use by the city.
The building has 100 rooms that once housed priests, but it has been empty since 2019 and was most recently been used for office space. The massive structure, nearly as long as Centre Block on Parliament Hill, was designed by Ottawa architect Auguste Martineau, and it opened in 1957.
The full cost of the site clean-up and conversion is not yet known. The committee’s recommendation must still be approved by full city council at its Sept. 13 meeting.