TORONTO — The federal government committed $200 million for affordable rental units at the former site of an iconic department store in Toronto on Thursday, with Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen saying the money will ensure the project stays true to its roots.
The discount store Honest Ed’s was sold in 2013 and closed its doors for good just over three years later, with developer Westbank Corp. demolishing the building and saying it would turn the city block it sat on into a multi-use community space.
There was talk at the time of some of the rental units being designated affordable, but officials said Thursday’s announcement cemented that goal.
“As a new refugee to Canada in 1993, in my first week, I went into Honest Ed’s and bought some clothing, because that’s all I could afford,” Hussen said. “Now it is being transformed into a really amazing project that will provide more affordable housing for people that are living and working in the downtown core.”
He made the announcement at the construction site — at this point still a hole in the ground, not yet built up — where the six new buildings are to stand.
They will include 916 rental units — 366 of which will be designated affordable, costing no more than one-third of the median income in Toronto. Of those, 100 will be secured at 80 per cent of the average market rate in Toronto — far less than the going price in the centrally located, transit-accessible downtown neighbourhood.
The affordable units will be scattered throughout the development so they have the same quality and design as their market-rate counterparts, Hussen said.
Hussen, who is also responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said the funding comes from a rental construction financing initiative.
He said the site will also include a public park, a marketplace, community services and “micro-retail spaces.”
“Residents and visitors will also be able to enjoy the outdoor performance venue and public art installations curated in partnership with David Mirvish,” Hussen said, referring to the son of Ed Mirvish, who founded Honest Ed’s in 1948.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the project is a milestone in the battle for cheaper housing.
“Affordable housing has long been a challenge in our city, and it continues to be as big a challenge as ever today,” Tory, who also attended the announcement, said. “But today shows how we can work together to actually start to make real progress in addressing that challenge.”