Empty downtown London office building to be converted to affordable housing

An empty office building in downtown London, Ont., will soon be converted into apartment units after a partnership between one of the city’s biggest developers, a non-profit and the church that owns the land on which the tower sits. The eight-storey building at 195 Dufferin Ave., just east of Richmond Street, is leased by Sifton Properties and doesn’t currently have tenants. It sits on land owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and will be transformed into housing run by Homes Unlimited, a non-profit housing provider. “We initiated the process with our partners because we saw a heavy need and although there is a heavy need for those who are homeless, there is a need for all areas of housing. This was a win-win-win, whether the city, the future renters, or the London economy,” said Richard Sifton, president and CEO of the company. Construction will begin as early as this summer and people can start moving in by fall 2025. The building will have 94 residential units, including:   80 one-bedroom units.  14 two-bedroom units.  40 per cent of the units will be designated as affordable, defined as 70 per cent of average market rent.  60 per cent will be designated as smaller-than-average units, to allow for lower market rent to make them more attainable.  “We want to reimagine the building. Office space is not the most viable in downtown London and the real need in the community is for housing, and affordable housing,” said Jim Foote, vice-president of Homes Unlimited, which will run the building. “We tried to think about what could be designed here, with this floor plate. We wanted to see, what could be done without tearing the building down.” “Sifton is a real leader in the community in housing and innovation. The city is looking to put some conversion funds forward, as was announced in the mayor’s speech earlier this year.” Downtown vacancy highIn fact, the city’s offer of up to $2 million for office buildings converted into apartments is what prompted the developer to begin converting the building, Sifton said.  One-bedroom units get just under $21,000 and two-bedroom units would get $28,155. The city plans to set aside $10 million in total for the conversions. “I don’t know if we would have done it without that,” he said. “Grant money is always beneficial. The washrooms aren’t in the right place, you don’t have any of the mechanical or electrical correct, so the renovation cost is actually surprisingly high, so any contribution that a government or any entity is going to make toward those added costs makes it so that it’s viable.” London’s downtown commercial vacancy is among the highest in the country at 28 per cent. 1970s-era office tower being converted into rental apartments in HalifaxA Halifax developer says his company’s renovations to convert the Centennial Building into apartments should be completed and ready for tenants in two years. Preston Mulligan has the story.Converting offices into livable units is notoriously difficult because of their layout, which includes large floor plates that limit window access and lower ceilings, as well as plumbing and ventilation issues. But Sifton and the partners have looked at those stumbling blocks and determined it can be done at the Dufferin building. The move was applauded by London Mayor Josh Morgan, who has championed office conversions and said he is “thrilled” that the three partners have come together to build create more affordable housing while breathing new life into vacant offices. “This is such great news,” Morgan said.  We have a desperate need in our community for more housing of all types, and the speed at which this proposal appears to be moving reflects that. It’s admirable and deeply appreciated,” he said. Sifton will oversee reconstruction for Homes Unlimited, which will assume operational responsibilities for the property.Working with Sifton and Homes Unlimited is a great opportunity for St. Paul’s as well as for those who will eventually live there, said Kevin George, the cathedral’s dean. “The problems are dire, the need for housing is evident, and anything we can do to add to the rental units available, we want to do,” George said. “The building is currently vacant and it creates a golden opportunity. Everybody wins. This is an investment in the future of the city.”

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