The storied Grand River Hotel building on King Street East in Preston hasn’t changed much since Indwell, a Christian charity group that provides affordable housing and wrap-around services to its tenants, finalized its purchase last year.
That doesn't mean work isn’t being done behind the scenes to set the stage for the organization's supportive housing project that will see 40 affordable units erected.
“We're currently in pre-development,” Mark Willcock, community engagement coordinator for Indwell, said.
“We’re assessing the site and the building overall. Is it something we can keep or does it get torn down? We’re doing soil testing and working with the city to see what permits need to be pulled and what the process is in getting it off the ground.”
While there’s no set timeline for how long the pre-development phase of the project will take, Willcock says the goal is to have the project completed some time in 2025.
But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing to this point at the site. Not only was the building itself ravaged by a fire in 2019, but notices from the city about a complaint against the building and a minimum standards order could be seen stapled to the door last month.
The first, a notice of contravention, stated after an inspection in April the city found the building to be in violation of its lot maintenance and anti-graffiti bylaws.
The second, dated April 14, had to do with the building itself. It stated that the structure was in need of wall repairs to prevent moisture from getting in.
Additionally, the roof is in need of repair and work needs to be done to address rotted and damaged windows.
The awning that hangs over the sidewalk facing King St E also needs to be repaired or replaced “so as to be kept in a safe and sound condition,” the notice stated.
When reached for comment, the City of Cambridge said Indwell was in compliance with the first notice and has until Sept. 21 to meet the terms of the second.
The work must also comply with the Ontario Heritage Act.
The original building on the site, formerly the Queen's Hotel, is believed to have been built sometime in the mid to late 1800s. Several alterations and additions have changed its appearance over the last century.
Willcock says the organization has someone who goes by the site multiple times per week to ensure it's secure and hasn’t been broken into.
“Indwell purchased the Grand River Hotel that had already been in a neglected state,” Willcock said.
“Bringing it back to life is a complicated but achievable undertaking and we’re excited about the opportunity to be a part of the community in Preston. While we’re in the pre-development phase of converting the Grand River Hotel site into supportive affordable housing, we have been addressing site security on an ongoing basis and dealing with vandalism and graffiti as it occurs. This includes being in communication and compliance with bylaw and the notices.”
Despite the hiccups, Indwell is excited to branch into Cambridge and support those in the community with affordable housing.
The organization is currently operating in eight other municipalities, including two sites in Kitchener and has a regional goal of adding 250 units in the next five years. Once the Grand River Hotel location is complete its total will be 200 in the region so far.
The units will be priced around $500 to match the amount given to residents on the Ontario Disability Support Program for living expenses.
With the building being 100 per cent supportive housing, Indwell will act as both the landlord and support workers with five to 10 people working on-site to help the tenants.
Willcock says much of his focus now is on completing a fundraising feasibility study in Cambridge, with the hopes of raising 15 to 20 per cent of the total cost of the project, which is anticipated to be in the 15 to 20 million dollar range.
“Being a faith based organization we make connections with local churches,” he said.
“Beyond that anyone in the community could donate to the project. I’ll be looking to present to any groups that are interested in learning about us and supportive housing in Cambridge.”