Options for Homes to replace bingo site on East Danforth

Weeks after buyers moved into a new Junction condo by the non-profit Options for Homes, a staffer phoned president Michel Labbé with a curious problem.

“What’s wrong with your building?” she asked.

“Everybody’s talking to each other.”

Labbé laughs at the story, but he says it highlights Options’ goal – building low-cost condos where most people own their suites and know their neighbours.

Like other major cities, Labbé said Toronto is becoming less and less affordable. By fall of 2016, if all goes to plan, a new group of chatty neighbours will move into another Options condo on Trent Avenue, just east of Main Street and Danforth Avenue.

Called The Village by Main Station, the 12-floor building is offering about 290 units priced $40,000 to $70,000 lower than the Toronto average.

Those prices start at $144,500 for a 400 square-foot bachelor, and $335,130 for three-bedroom units of just under 1,000 square feet.

Labbé says Options keeps prices low by building in up-and-coming neighbourhoods and forgoing big-ticket items like pools, gyms and fancy lobbies.

And rather than profit, Options uses all its after-cost revenues to offer buyers a second mortgage worth 13 to 15 per cent of their purchase price. Those mortgages go unpaid until the owner sells or rents the condo, which discourages speculators.

What it all means, said Labbé, is that people can buy a Toronto home with incomes about $20,000 lower than they would otherwise need.

Bob Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Danforth Village BIA, said the board voted in September to support the project, which will replace an old bingo hall.

Labbé founded Options in 1993, shortly after federal cuts shut down his previous employer – a non-profit that worked on subsidized rental properties like the housing co-op at Dentonia Park.

With no more federal money, Labbé and his colleagues worked out a new non-profit model funded by home buyers themselves.

“It turns out to be a much better place to be,” Labbé said.

“It creates stronger communities and still helps the same people.”

Options now has nine finished housing projects in Toronto, with nearly 3,000 condos and town homes between them. Each is owned by a buyers’ housing cooperative.

The company also has a small car-share fleet with 15 vehicles operating between the homes, and a green energy co-op that funds solar panel projects across the province.

While boosting values is not Options’ explicit goal, Labbé said the company has seen its homes’ prices rise quickly in. As an extreme example, he said, Options built the first three condos in what is now the Distillery District.

Labbé said the rising values are a natural outgrowth of projects that are 95 per cent owner-occupied.

“If you put in a solid community and they maintain their buildings well in a neighourhood that’s improving, well, that’s a recipe for success,” he said.

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