As Canada’s largest — and oldest — agency serving women and girls, you’d think the venerable YWCA would get some respect.

But when the Toronto office approached the banks for a $37 million loan to build the city’s largest affordable housing project in a decade, the women hit a brick wall.

“We were a group of women in a room facing a group of men,” recalls CEO Heather McGregor, who oversees the association’s $23 million operating budget and 330 unionized staff. “When women are asking for money, the credibility issue is always there.”
The banks never delivered.

But the YWCA is showing that women who work in social services can manage money and wear hard hats, too.

Tomorrow, McGregor will join Toronto Mayor David Miller and other supporters next to a 2,487-square-metre hole in the city’s downtown core to formally launch construction of the YWCA Elm Centre.

The three-tower complex that will house the YWCA’s local and national head offices also promises to be an environmental leader. It will include five green roofs, two rooftop gardens, energy-efficient electricity and one of the largest geothermal heating and cooling systems in North America.

Infrastructure Ontario, flush with federal funding, stepped up to the plate last year with a $37 million mortgage. Combined with $38 million in federal, provincial and municipal grants and loans, the ­YWCA was able to break ground on the ambitious project in January.