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Building Housing Diversity: Invizij Architects & Indwell

03 Mar 2017
Image Credit: George Qua-Enoo
Architectural Credit: Invizij Architects

We have been working with Indwell, a Hamilton-based Christian charity to create innovative responses to Ontario’s affordable housing crisis. In the past 5 years, we have built 250 apartments across five projects in Hamilton, Woodstock, and Simcoe, Ontario. During this time, these projects actually represent the majority of new rental units built in each of these communities.

Five built projects include: 
Rudy Hulst Commons (2016)
Hambleton Hall (2016)
Harvey Woods Lofts (2015&2017)
Strathearne Suites (2016)
Dr. John M. Perkins Centre (2011)

Projects in development:
500 James Redevelopment
Melvin & Parkdale Redevelopment 

Indwell’s mission is to create affordable housing communities for people seeking health, wellness, and belonging. Each project seeks to renew individual tenants’ living experience, but also neglected parts of their communities. The projects have included new construction on urban infill sites and adaptive-reuse of derelict buildings. A common factor has been finding sites that are marginalized for some reason, but have a human scale with good connections to local services, transit, and community resources.

Our approach to housing innovation approaches solutions from five perspectives:
1-  demographics and associated housing needs;
2 - available income;
3- community building through design;
4- cost-effective construction;
5- and heightening the aesthetic experience.

Dr. John M. Perkins Centre, Photo Credit: Jeff Tessier
Architectural Credit: Invizij Architects

The majority of Indwell apartments are intended for one or two person households, as there is the greatest need for this size household in creating housing stability. Indwell tenants are some of the most vulnerable a city, such as Hamilton that is rapidly gentrifying, where low-average rents are now unaffordable with these levels of income and developers are not interested because they would not be able to make a profit.

Innovation starts with understanding the tenants Indwell supports: households with a very low annual incomes – typically about $13,500 if from ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), some form of disability (often a mental illness), and an experience of homelessness. As the majority of demand in every community has been from single-person households (they have the fewest affordable options in the rental market), Indwell’s projects have been primarily bachelor (250 ft2) and one-bedroom apartments (425 ft2). Rents are then set at roughly $500 – far below the entry point for market-based new rental units.

Dr. John M. Perkins Centre, Photo Credit: Jeff Tessier
Architectural Credit: Invizij Architects

We have realized the scale of these housing communities is important: 40-60 units creates a knowable community where neighbourliness can grow. Community-building features are also included: shared kitchens, fitness and activity rooms, computer labs, and vegetable gardens – helping address the social isolation many tenants have experienced.

It is critical to keep construction costs in check.  Durable materials are detailed with good design principles to promote a sense of value while also reducing both construction and maintenance costs.  Typical construction costs for these project has ranged between $150-$180/ft2. Land costs are also kept in check by finding sites on the margins of gentrified areas, owners in financial distress, or complicated planning permissions.

Rudy Hulst Commons, Photo Credit: Tom Ridout
Architectural Credit: Invizij Architects

Our affordable housing projects have striking modern design elements, are sensitivity to the neighbourhood, and have been proven to reverse the expected impact on local neighbourhoods by actually increasing property values. Indwell’s projects are funded through a mix of government funding, community foundation loans, and donations and loans through individuals and faith communities. This diversity in funders creates a complicated financing model, but a stable and resilient base for long-term sustainability. It also promotes a higher degree of community ownership in Indwell’s projects. A current project in development is in partnership with Hughson Street Baptist Church in North Hamilton. They wanted to create an options for people being pushed from their neighbourhood through gentrification.  By partnering, Indwell is able to help develop long-term housing solutions while the church can provide a wide range of community programming. The project is aiming for Passive House certification – ensuring a very low environmental impact and operating costs.

Dr. John M. Perkins Centre, Photo Credit: Jeff Tessier
Architectural Credit: Invizij Architects

In the words of Brigitte Shim, “As our cities become denser, we need to ensure that they are also more humane. We all need to continue to create places for gathering that reflect evolving definitions of community.” Our projects with Indwell help re-imagine parts of our community that have often been hard done by, bringing light and hope where there was once despair. This architecture plays an important role in shaping people’s lives: once people have a safe place to live that promotes wellness within a community, everything else starts to fall into place.

Invizij Architects, is a Hamilton based practice that "believes in imaginative design and extensive project experience co-exist with a grounded, hands-on approach to real-world challenges."


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