The area of Keele and Dundas Street West is a perfect balance of business, residential and even green space with High Park just a stroll away along Keele Street. This is where Michael Labbé is building the latest project for Options For Homes, his non-profit affordable housing organization.
For those who haven’t heard of Options, their goal is to give low-income families the opportunity to buy inexpensive condos. They do so with an ingenious payment method. After attending one of the bi-weekly information sessions held every other Saturday at the building site — in this case, the worn down Canadian Tire — potential buyers put down a $100 deposit before paying a minimum of a five-per-cent down payment. Options then covers 10 to 13 per cent of the cost with a loan, which is only paid back at the time of resale and goes towards developing future projects. This leaves the buyer with a minimum of 15 to 18 per cent of their condo already paid off, lowering the monthly mortgage rate. The government kicks in an additional $25,000 for buyers earning below $45,000 a year.
“All of our sites have gone to a place where people wouldn’t have anticipated a condo — and we’ve shown that it’s possible. The next thing you know, more development starts in the area,” Labbé said.
With a proven track record that includes Shermount at 650 Lawrence Ave. W. and the three towers in the Distillery Historic District — all buildings that have vastly improved their surrounding area by bringing in a sense of community and a new aesthetic to the area — finding buyers has not been difficult.
“I like the shape of the building. I like that it’s close to the subway and the fact that it was affordable for us at the time,” said Felicia Dejonge, a resident at Shermount.
“The environment is so beautiful, so peaceful.”
It’s word-of-mouth promotion like this that has spread the gospel of Options For Homes.
In fact, Labbé recently had to cut promotion for the High Park condos because they reached their sales target twice as fast as anticipated — they launched their sales campaign in October 2006 and almost sold out. Now they’ve launched Phase 2 and buyers are still pouring in; 70 per cent of the suites have been sold so far.
“Except for people living within two kilometres of the site and people who notice our ads in the subway, they’re never going to hear about us,” Labbé said. “We don’t advertise broadly because we don’t have to.”
The only promotion they do is through their information session — just another way to save buyers money.
Not only has marketing become easier, but Labbé and Co. say their knowledge from past projects makes this their best one yet.
One feature of the site that might impress buyers is its environmentally sound structure.
“Their attitude towards the building is great,” said David, a recent investor. “This building is going to be individually metered so people in their units will have incentive to save electricity.”
The condos will also offer high-efficiency windows and solar heating. “Our property managers have told us that our buildings are always the lowest cost buildings in their portfolios because from Day 1, all we’re concerned about is the cost-effectiveness of the building,” Labbé said.
Construction is set to begin later this year.
Future prospects for Options include sites in north Pickering, another one at Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue West, and perhaps one downtown as well.
Labbé’s solution to affordable housing may even stretch into international territory to places like Ghana and Cancun. He has been approached by developers from those countries.
“It makes a lot of sense to use housing as a development tool in underdeveloped countries. They always have housing problems. And if you can think from the perspective of cost effectiveness, you can think of some really interesting housing solutions,” Labbé said.