The old Grand River Hotel in Preston is rising from the ashes; being renovated and converted to serve the community and its most vulnerable people.
After a devastating fire three years ago at the nearly 200-year-old building, the new owner has big plans to transform the once prominent Preston hotel into supportive and affordable housing units. The hotel was being used as apartments at the time of the fire and several people were displaced because of it.
The new owner, Indwell, is a Christian charity group that provides affordable housing and wrap-around services to its tenants. The group has just obtained the property on King Street and is currently in the development phase.
“We actually just recently purchased the property,” said Mark Willcock, community engagement coordinator for Indwell. “Our goal is to convert that into supportive and affordable housing units for the city of Cambridge.”
The fire-damaged hotel was listed for sale earlier this year for just under $1 million. The total construction cost to renovate the hotel is unknown due to the early stages in planning.
Indwell is currently in eight other municipalities, having two other locations in Kitchener; St. Marks Place on King Street W and St. Peter’s Lutheran on Queen Street. Both of the Kitchener locations are old churches that have been renovated and converted into living spaces.
Part of Indwell's plan for affordable housing is to take old and unused spaces like churches and hotels and completely overhaul them and turn them into livable apartment buildings. This process of up-cycling old spaces makes it easier and cheaper to secure housing in any market.
Since these buildings are 100 per cent supportive housing, they double as the landlords and support workers. This means they have anywhere from five to 10 people working on site to assist tenants.
“We provide different levels of support in different buildings,” said Willcock. “There will be a variety of teams like, nursing care, mental health support, addiction support and general housing support that will all be on site.”
The Grand River Hotel will provide Cambridge with a much needed 40 affordable housing units. This will align with Indwell’s regional goal to add 250 units in the next five years. They are already on their way; with the completion of the Preston location, their total will be brought to 200 units across the region.
The units will be priced around $497 to match the amount given to those on ODSP for living expenses. Willcocks understands the need for housing in the city and wants to create a space where they can afford and live comfortably.
“Most of our tenants that live with us have previously been homeless,” said Willcock. “What we have learned is that when someone has a permanent place to live, and something that they can afford, they can look ahead to tomorrow and not think about where my next meal is going to come from or where I am going to sleep.”
The Christian charity has been in contact with the City of Cambridge to assist them in the conversion of the old hotel.
According to Willcock, city staff helped find the location for their next project and are looking to help financially in any way possible.
“We are talking with the city and they will hopefully waive our development fees which add up a lot,” he added. “We are also going to apply for the affordable housing reserve fund for additional support.”
The affordable housing reserve fund is a one-time grant given by the city to help with the costs of building affordable housing here in Cambridge.
Per city policy, “The applicant must commit to maintaining the units as affordable rental housing for a period of 20 years based on affordable rents adjusted year-to-year.”
Indwell could not comment on how much they are seeking from the city as they have yet to apply.
The city is also unable to comment on this specific project and how much they could receive at this time.
Willcock hopes this is just the first of many projects in Cambridge and throughout the region and looks forward to connecting with the community on how they can provide the best service possible.
“We are always on the hunt for new locations that make sense for us and the community,” he said. “We want to have as much community engagement as possible to build something that us and the community can be proud of.”