Midtown’s Indigenous-led housing project to get under way in fall

The former War Amps building in midtown Toronto will become an apartment building for Indigenous elders and for seniors in general.

The existing two-storey building at 140 Merton St., built in 1959–1960, is to be converted into a 15-storey, 150-unit rental building with construction to begin this November. Tenants are slated to move in by January 2026.

The Missanabie Cree First Nation, based in Sault Ste. Marie, is heading up the project in partnership with construction company EllisDon Community Builders.

The project was awarded to the Missanabie after it responded to a city call in June 2021 seeking proposals for the site. It’s considered the city’s first Indigenous-led housing development for Indigenous seniors.

Announcing the project last August, EllisDon vice-president Nicholas Gefucia said in a city press release the company has the resources “to address the growing nationwide challenge of affordable housing.”

Missanabie First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier said in the release the Missanabie are active in community building and contribute financially to affordable housing.

“Providing a safe, respectful and holistic environment for our Nation’s members is a foundational part of who we are,” Gauthier said.

140 Merton St. announcement
BIG DAY: Then deputy mayor Ana Bailao and mayor John Tory join Missanabie First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier in announcing the Merton Street affordable housing project for seniors in July 2022.

According to the city, Indigenous people continue to be “overrepresented” in Toronto’s homeless population and experience barriers as they try to find accommodation they can afford.

A 2019 Oxford Global Challenge study by non-Indigenous students at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health found that although two per cent of Toronto’s population identifies as Indigenous they account for 16 per cent of the city’s homeless population.

The Merton Street building will include space for Indigenous ceremonies and a smudging room.

Smudging is a ceremony for the burning of plants that are sacred to Indigenous people — including cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco — according to The Indigenous Corporate Training website.

Participants in a smudging ceremony lean into the smoke and believe it cleanses them of negative thoughts.

‘Deeply affordable’ units

The Merton Street site, the first non-profit housing project in Toronto led by an Indigenous organization, is part of a city initiative called Housing Now which aims to turn city-owned sites into affordable housing.

The idea is to find sites in mixed-income communities that centre around transit hubs.

Affordable units at Merton Street will rent for 77 per cent of average market rent while 15 per cent will be set aside as “deeply affordable” at 40 per cent of average rents.

Toronto wants to create 40,000 affordable rental units by 2030. It’s working with the Indigenous development corporation Miziwe Biik to make 5,200 of those homes available for Indigenous people.

Currently, SPRINT Senior Care, which provides home care services to midtown seniors, is located at 140 Merton St. It will move next door during construction and return when the work is completed.