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Ottawa’s community land trust purchases its first property

Piecing the financing together was key to Ottawa Community Land Trust’s first property acquisition

Widespread gentrification, evictions, and a rampant cycle of rent increases has left many people feeling anxious about the future of their neighbourhoods. To prevent long-time tenants from being priced out of their communities, Ottawa’s community land trust is taking action.

“In Ottawa we have government programs to fund new affordable housing developments, but none that cater to the acquisition of existing housing,” explains Mike Bulthuis, executive director of Ottawa Community Land Trust (OCLT).

“Our aim is to preserve affordability by acquiring at-risk rental homes and placing them under community ownership. But acquisitions take a blending of capital, so the challenge is gathering the financing fast enough to secure the properties.”

Unlike private developers who can easily compete in a hot real estate market, land trusts and non-profits usually need to secure government funding, raise money from investors, and put all the pieces in place before they’re able to place an offer.

Earlier this year, OCLT made its first attempt to purchase a property. With support from the City of Ottawa, community residents, and Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB)’s Preserve and Protect Guarantee Program, OCLT announced the success of its acquisition – a six-unit rental property on Kirkwood Avenue in Carlington (pictured above).

Addressing the gap in affordable housing funding

Back in 2020, VCIB launched the Preserve and Protect Guarantee Program in partnership with Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust – a first-of-its-kind impact investment program that would help the land trust access necessary funds to acquire at-risk affordable rental buildings.

“Supporting the land trust movement is key to protect housing affordability,” said Eric Visser, VCIB’s Director of Commercial Real Estate.

“Our aim with this program was to leverage VCIB’s capabilities as a financial institution to reduce costs, timelines and other barriers for land trusts to access capital – including the amount that would typically be required as equity to secure bank financing.”

For OCLT’s first purchase, Mike was glad to have found a values-aligned banking partner;
“We were very grateful for VCIB’s willingness to work with us when things were new and when hiccups came up. The impression that I had of VCIB coming into this was that it’s a very values-driven financial institution, that comes through in their work.”

Now that their first property has been secured, OCLT is working on its next big step: growing an acquisitions fund through a community bond campaign.

Building a community movement

Through the land trust’s Housing Forever Bonds, managed by Tapestry Community Capital, OCLT will leverage its community of supporters to continue to purchase and preserve affordable rental housing in Ottawa.

“These are not donations, these are loans that will be paid back offering a financial return accompanied by social impact. So we see our community bonds as a really important strategy grounded in community engagement,” said Mike.

“But we’re also trying to build a community movement. If each of us are working alone it’s really hard to make a dent in the housing crisis, but if each of us brings something – even a small amount – we can actually raise quite a bit and use that to make acquisitions.”

Over time, OCLT’s portfolio will facilitate the leverage needed for the land trust to grow and collectively expand Ottawa’s affordable housing supply.

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