Danforth church redevelopment to provide affordable housing for seniors

Danforth Baptist Church, a place for congregation since 1931, is facing redevelopment to accommodate seniors in an affordable facility without affecting the church’s activities.

A mass-timber, eight-storey building of 50 units is being built on the site at 60 Bowden St. while preserving the church’s full face on Danforth Avenue and its two towers.

The social agency WoodGreen Community Services is to be in charge of managing the affordable accommodation for seniors.

“This is an alternative to long-term care or retirement home,” said Darlene Cook, WoodGreen’s director of housing development in an interview.

Large public funding

The acquisition and renovation of the church is possible thanks to $19.8 million in direct federal funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) Rapid Housing Initiative.

Other sources of funding include a $3.5-million investment from WoodGreen and a $4-million donation from the Sprott Foundation.

“We will not have a mortgage in this building,” Cook said. Due to the large amount of public funding and waivers given by the City of Toronto, operating costs will be greatly reduced.

The development comes at a time when seniors are facing rising rental costs.

seniors rent chart

“The demand for affordable housing that is suitable for seniors is high in Toronto,” said Leonard Catling, a CMHC spokesperson in an email statement.

As of 2022, seniors wait at least eight years on average in the city’s Centralized Waiting List for Rent-Geared-to-Income subsidy. The church’s development aims to alleviate this housing demand.

“On a limited income, it’s very difficult, especially in an urban setting such as Toronto, to get affordable housing,” said Elizabeth Macnab, executive director of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations.

Older congregation

According to a report by Social Planning Toronto, in 2020, 17.4 per cent of seniors lived in low-income households, making Toronto the third-highest place for senior poverty among large urban centres in Canada.

Being almost 100 years old, the congregation got smaller in size, which made it challenging to afford maintenance and repairs. Some members of the church reached out to WoodGreen and agreed to redevelop the space.

The redeveloped building will contain congregate dining, lounge, and 24/7 assistance from personal support workers, said Cook. “Aesthetically, the church will look the same from Danforth [Avenue].”

Danforth Church architects' plans
FACADE: The redeveloped church facing Danforth Avenue, as envisioned by the architects. (CMV Group Architects for WoodGreen Community Housing Inc.)

Other amenities include a landscape courtyard, transportation services, and bike storage.

WoodGreen said the city of Toronto will determine who is eligible to register for housing at the new facilities.

Living with a group of peers, accessibility and socialization features, dining purposes, and medical care are some benefits offered in retirement houses, Macnab said.

These retirement communities are very aware of elder abuse and train staff to tackle this issue, she said.

“They’re very safe communities to live in,” Macnab said.

According to Cook, the project is expected to finish between August and September in 2024.

The Danforth Baptist Church continues to hold mass through online meetings and in Glen Rhodes United Church upon notice. Normal activities are expected to return to 60 Bowden St. once construction finishes.