Rainbow Resource Centre (Rainbow) plans to purchase and move into the historic Wilson House at 545 Broadway Avenue, occupying the entire house and the first floor of a four-story affordable housing development for 2SLGBTQ+ tenants to be built directly next to it.
"This is a full circle for Rainbow. All of our activities started in the West Broadway neighbourhood," said Rainbow executive director Noreen Mian, tracing Rainbow's roots back to Giovanni's Room on Sherbrook Avenue.
Rainbow, which provides programs and services to the 2SLGBTQ+ community, plans to move from their current Osborne Village home on Scott Street within two years, depending on when they finalize the purchase of Wilson House from current owner West Broadway Community Organization (WBCO).
Mian believes Rainbow will be able to operate in Wilson House, a designated heritage building, with few renovations as it was updated in the early 2000s.
Westminster Housing Society (WHS) will build the new structure using a $5 million federal Rapid Housing Initiative grant on land they will lease from WBCO for a nominal fee. The building, which WHS will own and manage, will include about 21 units of affordable housing for the general community, prioritizing older adults in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Rainbow will have programming space on the ground level.
"We're hoping to have tenants start to move in, God willing, this time next year," said WHS board chair Mary Agnes Welch, adding construction should begin in the next two months.
Welch, says the housing will be "genuinely, deeply affordable."
"By deeply affordable, I mean people on EIA can live there, people on Rent Assist, people who have small disability pensions or old age pensions. It is people who are genuinely low-income."
WHS has a 30-year history of purchasing and rehabilitating older homes in West Broadway to create affordable units, but project homes are becoming more expensive and rare, Welch says.
"For us, this is now trying to move a little bit past that model of rehabbing old houses and into building new buildings (with) way more units."
Older adults in the 2SLGBTQ+ community need housing options where they are safe and supported and not pushed back into the closet, Mian says.
"For the older adults, the baby boomers and the silent generation, the reality is still that they face a lot of discrimination, and a lot of homophobia."
Mian says Rainbow eventually plans to build another structure to physically connect the new building to Wilson House, creating an open community hub within a campus of Rainbow services.
"Rainbow's vision for this entire site is actually even, dare I say it, more exciting than ours is," said Welch.
"This whole project will kind of animate what I think has been an underused site on a really high-profile corner of West Broadway."
Welch says the project is a three-way partnership between the organizations involved, and they all welcome feedback.
"If people have questions or if they have any advice for us or concerns, please get in touch with me at Westminster Housing or Greg MacPherson (executive director of WBCO), or Rainbow."
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf