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April 11, 2018

An affordable home in the heart of St. John’s

“I’m going to walk more,” says Mrs. Fordham, who is about to move back into her old neighbourhood. “I’ll have my independence back and get a lot more out of my days.”

A former resident of downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, Mrs. Fordham is a bright-eyed, active senior. When the increasing costs of homeownership outpaced her fixed income, she had to sell her family home. She moved to an apartment in the outer edges of the city, but she wasn’t able to stay there either.

“There was a fire in the building,” she says in a restrained, low voice.

Due to smoke damage and remediation, she spent more than a year in various temporary accommodations. It was a difficult time for Mrs. Fordham, and she missed having her own space.

She currently commutes about an hour every day to spend time in the neighbourhood where she spent most of her life. Some days she has errands or doctor’s appointments, but today she is going to walk the well-trodden trails and downtown streets.

She says the brightly coloured row houses and historic parks bring back fond memories. The sights and smells of the harbour restore her sense of belonging.

“I’ve always really loved this neighborhood, yes, really love it,” she says.

And soon, she will be back home. This summer, Mrs. Fordham will move to a new affordable housing unit at the Cochrane Centre in the downtown core.

Catherine French, manager of the centre, shares Mrs. Fordham’s love for St. John’s. “I have a real passion for the city, and for making something good happen,” she explains.

“I came to work here because I saw from my previous jobs the ill effects and negative impacts of improper housing,” she says. “I saw how people can’t move forward if they are constantly searching for somewhere to live.”

Catherine came on board in June 2017 to lead the transformation of Cochrane Street United Church into a social enterprise.

“The community annex of the church wasn’t being used to its potential,” she says. “The Board worked diligently to transform it into a space that that served the community and generated revenue.”

Working with the Board of Directors, Catherine focused on creating affordable housing. Ten supportive housing units opened in November 2017, and 5 new rental units for seniors are scheduled to open in June 2018.

Catherine is also exploring other opportunities, such as the creation of community kitchens, wellness services and expanded rentals for the centre’s commercial kitchen. There are currently rental arrangements with a local baker and a butcher who both sell offsite. Through the social enterprise model, they can support more small-scale local businesses.

“My purpose here is making sure people are comfortable and safe, and that the centre is well cared for,” says Catherine.

Mrs. Fordham looks forward to joining the vibrant community at the Cochrane Centre and returning to the area she knows and loves.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I’m finally coming home.”

This project received funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation through the 2014-2019 Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation also provided Seed Funding to this project.