Daniel Germain moved into the Kingsway Continental non-market housing complex at 3484 Kingsway near Joyce St. in Renfrew-Collingwood about three months ago. But it was only on Saturday that he and fellow tenants celebrated its official opening with an open house that featured resident-guided tours.
The building used to be a Ramada Inn. The city bought it for $15.5 million in 2012, renovated it for $4.5 million and renamed it the Kingsway Continental.
Renovation costs more than doubled due to the discovery of mould, which delayed the opening for months while it was addressed, according to Jennifer Standeven, the city’s assistant director of business operations.
Outside improvements include raised beds for flower and vegetable gardens. Bernie’s Deli has leased the restaurant space located on the main floor of the building site, but a tenant for the former pub space has yet to be found. Standeven said the city is looking for a tenant that is “compatible” with social housing and the neighbourhood.
Residents started moving in to the 123-unit complex mid-March and it’s now about 75 per cent full.
Standeven expects it will be full by the end of summer. New tenants include seniors who were homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Seventy-one tenants from the 109-unit Old Continental residence at 1390 Granville St., which is going to be demolished, were given priority placement — 71 took advantage of the offer, including Germain.
Germain, 59, said health problems wiped him out financially. Before he found a place at the Old Continental almost nine years ago, he was living in a van.
He worried about moving across Vancouver to the Kingsway Continental, but he’s thrilled with the new neighbourhood and the welcome he’s received.
After Germain heard Collingwood Neighbourhood House, residents and community organizations were organizing welcome baskets for tenants, including hand-written cards from students at a nearby elementary school, he called to express appreciation and wound up volunteering his own services.
As a trained barber, who plans to go back to work part-time soon, he’ll be offering haircuts to those in need through the neighbourhood house.
“[I called the Collingwood Neighbourhood House to thank them] because it’s so important for the youth, the next generation to understand — to look and to reach out to people that are in need. I just thought they should know how important that was.”
Germain called his new unit “wonderful,” noting each room has a private bathroom — residents at the Old Continental had to share — and laundry facilities are available in the building.
“The main thing is we have a shower in each unit. It just makes a tremendous amount of difference in being conscious of our hygiene. It’s just marvelous,” he said.
Jennifer Gray-Grant, Collingwood Neighbourhood House’s executive director, said it will continue to offer services to Kingsway Continental residents through its various groups. A community kitchen and plans for art projects are in the works.
“It’s been working out very well. I think one of the reasons is because the city has worked with the neighbourhood around this,” Gray-Grant said.
“It’s a very collaborative neighbourhood and the city came to us ahead of time and said this is happening. We said, OK, we want to work with you on it by working collaboratively and looking at how we can support people’s successful integration into the neighbourhood. It’s worked out well and it really has been a long time coming.”