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Innovation in housing: How non-profit New Commons Development is building housing for all

New Commons is building “deeply affordable” units in Toronto and Vancouver. Learn how.

Condo buildings under construction in Vancouver.

Published on August 15, 2018

Building homes for all, in the right location, at the right size, and for the right price is what makes a healthy housing ecosystem. But more and more people are finding this task a challenge.

New Commons Development is trying to change that by helping community groups, non-profits, co-ops and governments build affordable housing across Canada.

As a non-profit, New Commons Development’s main difference from other real estate companies is the motive, which isn’t to make money.

“We are not operating like a consultant or a private company. By virtue of that non-profit status, we essentially are leaving more profit in the project to be reinvested or employed in different ways,” says Hadley Nelles, Business Manager for New Commons Development.

Though that may be a major difference between non-profit and for-profit developers, it isn’t the only one. 

“We’re mission-aligned to our partners. We have a lot of the similar end goals to these organizations we’re working with, which is essentially to build housing for people who exhibit housing need,” says Nelles.

Rendering of an affordable rental building being developed in partnership between New Commons Development and a local community services organization in Toronto.
Rendering of an affordable rental building being developed in partnership between New Commons Development and a local community services organization in Toronto. Courtesy New Commons

One of these projects is in the east end of Toronto, where New Commons is working with a community services organization to build 36 units of affordable housing for seniors. These units are designed with accessibility and energy efficiency features, and are located in a well-connected, walkable neighbourhood close to high quality green space. In partnership with strong local community organizations, New Commons Development has over 1,000 units of affordable housing in the pipeline that are at various stages of the development process.

Another difference for a non-profit developer like New Commons? Affordability takes on a deeper meaning for the organization.

While most housing developers may define “affordable” as a certain percentage of market price that fluctuates based on the housing market, New Commons aims to develop units that are priced based on income. This varies in range for each project, up to 80 per cent of the median income of a city.

New Commons Development is even innovating within the non-profit development sector, raising its own capital to shoulder the upfront, pre-development costs associated with housing developments.

“That is most frequently, I would say, the biggest barrier to non-profit organizations developing new assets—having that working capital available to them,” says Nelles. “The value that we bring to our partnerships is the ability to carry a project at those early stages until it moves forward to construction.”

Visit the New Commons Development website to learn more about the organization and their work in Vancouver, Toronto and other communities across Canada.