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‘Breakthroughs every day’ in affordable housing initiative

A collaboration led by Habitat for Humanity’s Ontario Gateway North, the Our House/Notre Maison initiative will work to develop homes that are unique, easy to construct and cost-effective

When it comes to the need for affordable housing, a newly-forged collaborative group in Sudbury said there is nothing that is off the table. 

“We’re having breakthroughs every day,” said Michael Cullen, director of community partnerships at Habitat for Humanity’s Ontario Gateway North.

The new initiative is a partnership between Gateway North, Collège Boréal, construction companies EllisDon and Soublière, as well as local architectural firm 3rdLine.Studio. 

Called Our House/Notre Maison, the plan is to develop homes that are unique, easy to construct and cost -effective. Whether that means tiny homes, homes in subdivisions or scattered throughout the city, is being decided at every consultation meeting. And not only are those meetings include the builders and developers, but the potential residents as well. 

Though not new to the world of non-profit having served as long time executive director of United Way, Cullen is now focused on ensuring there is affordable housing for the people of Sudbury, especially newcomers, and those who traditionally face hardship when it comes to securing housing. For reasons like discrimination or reliance on income supplements, BIPOC, veterans, persons living with disabilities, and people from the 2SLGBTQ+ communities face housing insecurity, and it is the voices of these communities that Cullen hopes to engage. 

The exciting project that we're doing right now, is actually consulting with these groups at a deeper level, getting their input and actually engaging them in the design elements,” Cullen said. Right. That's one of the unique pieces, one of several unique pieces that we're putting in place that are very transparent and very engaging. These conversations are going to go really deep, and this will drive everything,” He said. “I truly believe that there needs to be consensus, not politics, at the heart of what we're going to do.”

Of course, it isn't just those groups that face housing insecurity as the cost of living rises but wages do not. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) defines ‘affordable housing’ as shelter costs of less than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income. According to Public Health Sudbury & Districts, more  than 21 per cent of families spend in excess of 30 per cent of their household income on shelter costs. 

Gateway North specializes in vendor take-back mortgages, a rent to own financing that allows the homeowner to own the home after a set period of payments, with no down payment needed, and that will likely stay a part of the Our House/Notre Maison project. “We're also putting significant resources into making sure that the families or the individuals that move into these homes are well informed on home ownership, home repair and financial literacy,” Cullen said.  “We're putting real resources into making sure that they are trained, because the last thing we want is to celebrate a home for an individual or a family, and then two years later, they don't understand what they signed up for.”

And rather than offering these homes to the homeless or vulnerable, they are offered to those who can maintain them effectively, thus clearing community and social housing for those in need. 

Modular-style homes, built using one or more prefabricated, three-dimensional components or ‘modules’ and constructed partially or completely off-site then transported to a property and assembled there, like building blocks, are the preferred method to explore at this point, said Cullen. But that’s about all the group is certain of at this point; the rest will be determined on the fly, as consulting, and inspiration come into play. 

“We're already talking about building our first prototype home in the shop at Collège Boréal,” he said. 

They are also considering manufacturing on the move. “We're looking at a mobile factory that can be moveable, and we're getting interest from a lot of northern communities already. Imagine a modular factory that goes to an area and can build 30 homes in a month.”

Though these homes likely won’t have a basement, they will still be ready for Northern winters and northern needs. “We're looking at the latest solar technology, R values (insulation), all that stuff. I mean, these homes are legitimately going to be just like a regular house, warm and cozy."

Cullen said that because of the passion behind the partners and community groups, “I’m very confident that we'll be building this time next year, and a few houses, not just one.”

Any organizations looking to become involved in the initiative may contact OGN’s Michael Cullen directly at [email protected] or 705-929-9892.



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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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