After more than a year of uncertainty, celebratory cheers rung out down the halls. Residents had just learned that St. Jude Community Homes was officially the new owner of their leased building at 1845 Gerrard Street East in Toronto. Everyone could now rest easy, knowing they could continue to live in their home with their community of friends and supporters. Yet the path to ownership and the preservation of this affordable home on Gerrard Street East wasn’t straightforward.
St. Jude Community Homes provides permanent, safe, affordable housing for people living with mental illness. A non-profit mental health agency, St. Jude Community Homes operates four residential sites with self-contained and affordable rental units in various Toronto neighbourhoods. By creating a sense of community and offering support when needed, they have created a space where residents not only build their independence but thrive.
The St. Jude Community Homes Gerrard Street site in Toronto’s east end opened in 2007. After many years of successful operation, in 2020 the landlord indicated that they were looking to sell the building. A deep feeling of uncertainty took root as their lease was coming due, and the organization was not in a financial position to make an offer. That was set to change though, thanks to ingenuity, hard work and the right partnerships.
With the support of their board, staff and residents, plus the guidance of a development consultant, St. Jude Community Homes successfully applied to the City of Toronto’s Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition (MURA) program. They are a perfect fit for MURA, which is intended to help not-for-profit housing providers buy their at-risk buildings and preserve existing affordable rental housing in the city. In addition to MURA funding, the city also granted a 99-year residential property tax exemption on the Gerrard Street East building.
Buying a building in a hot real estate market is not easy, particularly if your focus is typically managing a care agency. “When trying to acquire our building, we found the expertise of a development consultant to be invaluable,” says Carol Zoulalian, Executive Director at St. Jude Community Homes. “He helped us find grants, ensured our finances were in order, made sure our financing application was supported by the right documentation, and generally helped me and our board navigate some very unfamiliar waters.”
Carol then contacted Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) to finance the purchase costs that were outstanding even after the significant MURA contribution. “I’d heard about VCIB through our non-profit housing network,” Carol added. “Once we started working together, VCIB’s experience with the sector and their people-first approach became very clear.”
Chloe Wong, a VCIB Commercial Real Estate Account Manager, underscores the bank’s commitment to advancing affordable housing: “We want to make it easier for housing providers to continue doing their work and making a difference in peoples’ lives.”
Rising interest rates and other factors complicated the application process, resulting in timeline changes that might have derailed their opportunity to purchase the building. “These deals can be a lot of work for a lender, because non-profits and co-ops often need smaller more flexible loans,” Chloe adds. “We understand the sector’s needs, and we don’t shy away from putting in that extra effort.”
VCIB’s willingness to consider the MURA grant funding as equity was another key element of St. Jude Community Homes’ successful lending application. “As an impact-driven lender, we’re familiar with the granting process and the non-profit landscape, plus we’ll work directly with funders,” notes Chloe. “That allows us to see grant money as a source of equity when crunching the numbers. Not all lenders look at it that way,” she adds.
VCIB provided St. Jude Community Homes with a fixed-rate term mortgage of $1.2 million to finalize the purchase of the building at 1845 Gerrard Street East, Toronto. The sale closed in early September 2023.
“It was so wonderful to be able to share this news with our residents,” says Carol. “The teamwork this process required was unbelievable, and we are proud that we did it.” Closing the door on renting, St. Jude Community Homes was able to preserve the 20 units at their Gerrard Street site as affordable housing in perpetuity.
Learn more about VCIB’s social purpose real estate financing in our website. If interested in chatting with VCIB about your financing needs,