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Ottawa Salus Supportive Housing Builds Passive House for Occupancy 2016

Click here for the history of supportive housing

Tenants of supportive housing can choose from a range of places to live as well as the degree of professional mental health support they need.  Sometimes they prefer shared living to combat isolation or loneliness, in which case they live in a small home with communal kitchen and living room spaces. They may prefer a small walkup with a half dozen apartments in a downtown neighbourhood where they can meet with their individual case manager to discuss their goals and progress.  They may choose a place in a larger building, with many neighbours around them and greater anonymity.

These same tenants may leave every day for work or school or volunteering.  They may join a 5K running group, a tai-chi class, a documentary film group, or theatre arts. They may be singing in a band or teaching others to play guitar.  They can enjoy these activities and hobbies in neighbourhood community centres and local gyms, or through programs offered in their own building, where staff trained in mental health and community development or recreology provide a supportive place to gather with others, enjoying common interests. The choice is theirs and those choices strengthen our communities.  At the root of that choice is the ability to live affordably in a well-maintained home where they can heal, recover and live a life of independence and dignity.

When Ottawa Salus’s Passive House building opens in the summer of 2016, it will provide 42 new homes to individuals living with a mental illness, many of whom have experienced homelessness.  Currently under construction in Ottawa South, the multi-residential building is the largest scale affordable housing project pre-certified to International Passive House standards in North America.  Savings generated by Passive House design will reduce operational costs for Salus and this publicly-funded asset.

With a current wait list of five to seven years, Salus’ newest Passive House building will offer that choice to another 42 of Ottawa’s most vulnerable citizens. It is also reviving Canada’s role as a leader in the design and building of Passive House construction for maximum energy savings and consumption demand management. The Ottawa Salus project will set a new standard in affordable, quality and above all, environmentally responsible construction.  For more information, please visit our campaign site (

Passive Houses – Reducing the Costs of Supportive Housing

by Lisa Ker

Back in the late 1970’s a project called Conservation House in Saskatchewan highlighted the use of air tightness and “heat recycling” to manage energy consumption.  It was one of the first demonstration projects of its kind in North America and achieved a benchmark of 85% less energy required than a standard home for heating and cooling.  At the time, the research behind its success did not manage influence Canadian building codes to any large degree. It did, however, make its way to Germany, where “Passive Houses” were designed and built beginning in the 1990s.  While Passive House construction is increasingly being used in the private housing market today, the application of its principles to publicly-funded housing has been less common.

At about the same time Conversation House was built, new approaches were being studied in an entirely different field.  Individuals living in psychiatric hospitals were introduced to new treatments which shortened their hospital stays and allowed them to move into the community. While a step in the right direction, simply releasing people without appropriate supports often resulted in rapid breakdown in mental health and then re-hospitalization.  In response, mental health professionals, along with family members and friends of people with mental illness developed new ways to provide supportive living arrangements.  Their approach of combining affordable housing with other rehabilitative services assisted persons recovering from mental illnesses to regain their health and integrate into the community.  Ottawa Salus, a local organization, was an early example of what became known as supportive housing.

40 years later, there has been positive change supported by our community’s growing understanding of mental illness. Statistics like ‘1 in 5’ inform popular campaigns to raise awareness that the stigma of mental illness is not only inappropriate and outdated, it is a barrier to mental wellness.  Yet many individuals with serious illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia still end up living on the margins of society and too often, on the street.  A lack of permanent quality affordable housing forces individuals into instability or into situations where they must live at a subsistence level, depending upon others or confined to hospitals, reminiscent of decades past. The price of their housing is their own independence. And it is a cost we all bear as members of one community.

Ask anyone what their home means to them, and that person would likely list many things beyond simple shelter. Supportive housing can make housing a home for hundreds of Ottawa’s most marginalized citizens.  While hospitals treat individuals in crisis, the stability that is gained from supportive housing decreases the need for hospitalization.  And supportive housing is not only affordable for individuals who pay rent as tenants, it is far less costly to the taxpayer.

Click here for more on passive houses and the new Salus project

Lisa Ker is the Executive Director of Ottawa Salus Corporation.  Ottawa Salus offers housing, community support services, and rehabilitation programs for individuals aged 16 or older with serious mental illness.

Social Finance – A Primer

by Brittany Stares

“Social finance,” along with “social investing” and “impact investing,” is a term that has become highly fashionable in conversation but can remain elusive when it comes to being put into practice.

Social finance departs from traditional investing in that it is not focused on financial returns alone. In contrast, social finance is about investing to make a specific, positive social impact – while still generating a financial return. In some cases, investors may be willing to accept below-market returns based on the social outcome. In others, market-comparable returns provide the necessary lure to attract large streams of capital.

Canada’s MaRS Centre for Impact Investing describes three categories of social finance tools:
1. Debt instruments (such as loans, loan guarantees, etc.)
2. Equity investments (issuing of shares in a business)
3. Venture philanthropy grants (not repayable)

For charities and nonprofits, as compared to money-making social enterprises, debt instruments merit the most discussion. Debt instruments take various forms, including loans, lines of credit and community bonds, and can be used by organizations for bridge financing, funding new developments, expanding, etc. Typically, they are repaid with interest so the lender makes a profit. Bank loans are the most familiar of these; however, foundations, municipal governments, individuals, institutional investors, community loan funds and others can also serve as lenders, and are sometimes more accessible to small organizations than large banks. One example of a loan fund is the London Community Foundation’s Loan Fund in London, Ontario, which turns donations into capital loans for affordable housing developers. Another debt instrument is a community bond, which is essentially a promissory note offered by nonprofits or charities that is purchased by individuals or organizations and repaid with interest at a later date. Each bond can be small, a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, making community bonds a unique way to leverage support from local community members.

One of the best-known examples of community bonds in Canada is the Centre for Social Innovation’s issuing of RRSP-eligible bonds in 2010 in Toronto. The bonds offered annual returns between 3-4.5% and raised $2 million for the organization to purchase a new building. .

For some, social finance can be a tough pill to swallow. Using financial returns to “incentivize” taking action on pressing social issues might seem unpalatable. Some argue there is an inherent clash between business and social values. There are also concerns that social finance encourages debt upon charities and nonprofits that may not be equipped to handle it. While social finance does require organizations to adopt, at least partially, a business mindset, its potential is hard to deny. Public sector resources and private philanthropy have proven insufficient to address major social challenges, such as ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing. Charitable donations in Canada are declining. Social finance opens the door to largely untapped sources of capital, attracting both those investors driven by social mission and those who prioritize financial returns. In fact, the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance has called social finance a $30 billion opportunity for Canada if only 1 percent of assets under management shift in this direction. However, for social finance to be successful, the charities, nonprofits and other social service providers on the ground must be prepared – these organizations must be able to align their needs with investment opportunities, and be able to demonstrate to investors reasons to be confident.

Brittany Stares is a Master’s Candidate in the Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program at Carleton University and a Research Assistant for the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation (3ci).


Why Does Ottawa Need to Broaden the Base?


Safe, sustainable, adequate housing is a fundamental human need.  It is also a social determinant of individual and community health and wellbeing.  Housing is deemed to be “affordable” if a household’s shelter costs are less than 30% of before-tax household income (CMHC). Many households in Ottawa, due to economic limitations, physical health and addictions issues, mental health issues, and social circumstances, do not have the ability to afford housing on the open market.  Key vulnerable populations in Ottawa facing these realities include individuals who are chronically homeless, families with low to very low incomes, youth-at-risk, Aboriginal peoples, and seniors.    For those in housing need, various programs are available through governments, community organizations, non-profit and cooperative groups to provide low-income rental housing or subsidized and supportive housing to meet the households’ ability to pay.   However, in Ottawa the demand greatly outweighs the supply.  In 2014, there were 10,200 households on the waitlist for subsidized housing and only 141 new units built.  Consequently, many individuals in our community were precariously housed or relied on unstable and inadequate emergency housing.



The affordable housing problem in Ottawa is multi-faceted and complex.   Some of the underlying causes include: a rental market that does not adequately provide for low and fixed income households needs;   a residential housing market that disincentives mixed-income rental development; an inadequate funding and asset allocation structure for affordable housing; and a community that lacks understanding/advocacy for affordable housing development.


Vacancy rates in Ottawa have remained consistency low (2.8% in April of 2015), the construction of rental housing has “flat lined”, and existing rental stock has diminished through erosion and conversion to condominium housing (CMHC, 2015; FCM, 2012), resulting in upward pressure on market rents that are well above the ability of those on limited, fixed or disability incomes to pay.  As an example, in 2014 an individual receiving an Ontario Disability Support Payment received, on average, $656.00 per month.    The average market rent for a bachelor apartment in Ottawa during that same period was $780.00 (ATEH, 2015). While there has been some softening of the rental market in the Fall of 2015; it has not been to the degree that would allow for significant inclusion of Ottawa’s economically vulnerable citizens.


Rising development costs, a constrained land supply, and more onerous municipal approvals/standards have increased economic pressures on the home building sector (CHBA, 2015), making affordable housing development less attractive (Black, 2012).  As profit margins decrease, risk tolerance weakens which results in developers focusing on building for the single family housing and condominium real estate markets with little integration of mixed-income housing projects.  The City of Ottawa, in conjunction with other levels of government, has offered incentives to developers in exchange for affordable rental housing.  Developers generally perceive rental housing development to be far less profitable, not economically feasible without significant government subsidies, and more difficult to manage (Black, 2015).


Federal, and then provincial, downloading of responsibility and funding for social and supportive housing in the 1990s put the onus of responsibility for affordable housing development, funding management, and asset maintenance and management onto the municipality.  This includes identifying and approving all new affordable housing projects, managing provincial and federal funding programs, maintenance and management of all social housing, management and funding of the social housing registry, management and disbursement of rental supplements and housing allowances, and financing of emergency housing and supports for those experiencing homelessness.  For many of these functions, the City has partnered with community organizations and non-profit housing and social service providers to deliver the programs and services.   The City of Ottawa developed a 5 year action plan in 2002 and then a 10 year action plan in 2013 to envision a framework for a housing system that “aligns assets, funding, services, supports, policies and programs” to address the city’s housing and support needs (City of Ottawa, 2014).  Adopting a “Housing First” approach, the City has committed to housing and supports for those in need to reduce homelessness in Ottawa.   The City has dedicated considerable resources to the initiative, topped up by federal and provincial funding for new affordable housing development.  Funding and programming is managed and under the direction of the Homelessness and Housing Branch.  Despite the investment commitment made to the action plan, there remains a significant “asset gap” for achieving the affordable housing objectives outlined in the plan. (For an explanation of the allocations in the 2015 budget, see


Finally, in Ottawa there is a lack of collective community action surrounding affordable housing resolutions.  While the issue itself has received tremendous attention from media, social welfare groups and government, there has been a lack of community engagement surrounding the issue.  This has resulted in community apathy for the issue, or worse, instances of intolerance or resistance to public housing development.  A broader community understanding of the issue and the economic and social value of diverse housing solutions in Ottawa is required.



Broadening the Base evolved from a conversation among business, non-profit, and community leaders who recognized that more and diverse resources, partnerships, and assets need to be dedicated to affordable housing in Ottawa in order to achieve our community goals.   Broadening the Base is a collaborative and inclusive initiative that, though engaging a more diverse group of stakeholders to address the issue, seeks to identify new and under-utilized mechanisms and models to leverage resources and partnerships to accelerate affordable housing development in Ottawa.  Broadening the Base has set a target of identifying the means to open 1,500 new affordable housing units in five years, increasing the City’s goal for the same period by 1,000 units.



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  • Vacancy rates in Ottawa have remained consistency low (2.8% in April of 2015), the construction of rental housing has “flat
    CMHC, 2015; FCM, 2012
  • Nearly 22,000 Ottawa renter households are paying more than 50% of monthly household income on rent and utilities.
    Canadian Rental Housing Index
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