Our Story

Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) bought its first building in 1975 with $500 in the bank. Today we own and manage more than 50 properties that provide almost 1600 units of affordable housing to Ottawa residents. We continue to be run by dedicated volunteers and staff who believe in the basic idea that everyone should have control over their housing.

The Centretown Plan

In the mid-seventies, neighbourhood and community groups all over North America realized that they had to defend their communities from the development of high-rise office buildings and the threat of highways. In Centretown, the Centretown Citizens Community Association (CCCA) worked with the City of Ottawa to develop the Centretown Plan. With community members involved as fully as possible in the process, the Plan outlined a vision of a thriving downtown neighbourhood. It called for intensification, but on the neighbourhood’s own terms, without sacrificing the character of Centretown.

The two main goals of the Plan were to maintain and enhance the residential character of Centretown while allowing a moderate increase in population, and to accommodate persons of all age groups, income levels, cultural backgrounds, lifestyles and household sizes wishing to live in Centretown with good quality, affordable housing.

To achieve these goals, the plan laid out proposals related to future development and land use, transportation systems, housing, heritage, community facilities and services, and commercial areas. After achieving this success, the community created CCOC as one way to make sure Centretown stayed a vibrant and affordable residential neighbourhood.

530-540 McLeod Street
258 Lisgar Street

1970s

CCOC is Born! CCOC began in 1974 as the offshoot of the CCCA, when the National Housing Act introduced a provision which would allow community groups to establish non-profit housing corporations. CCOC’s founders had three major goals:

  • provide affordable family housing in Centretown
  • make sure that Centretown would stay residential
  • give tenants control of their housing

 

Between 1974 and 1977, CCOC acquired its first 9 properties, with a total of 43 units located in row houses, duplexes and triplexes. In 1978, the purchase of 258 Lisgar with 87 units in an 11 storey building provided CCOC with the size needed to hire more than one employee and establish an office. And in 1979 CCOC completed its first construction development with 22 units in an elevatored building at 50 James.

From the beginning, CCOC committed to involving tenants and community members in decision-making. During these early days, many volunteer hours were put in by board members and staff, since the organization’s size did not support the resources needed to get the job done. Many of these founding CCOC’ers remained involved over several decades! By the end of the 1970’s, CCOC had 12 properties with a total of 165 units.

110 Nelson Street
29 Rochester Street

1980s

Growing like a weed! By 1982, CCOC had built or acquired 10 more buildings, more than doubling its size to 367 units, with a broad mix of buildings and unit sizes. Development of 42 stacked row houses on the site of the former Percy School led to two firsts: our first wheelchair accessible units and our first design award. Staff functions were formalized and policies established to guide the growth.

In keeping with its community roots, CCOC developed partnerships with support agencies to help people with mental illness, physical disabilities, addictions and those living with HIV/AIDS. The late 80’s saw CCOC signing agreements with agencies like Upstream, Serenity House, Cornerstone, Personal Choice for Independent Living and Bruce House, where CCOC built or provided the units, and the service agency provided the supports needed by their clients.

CCOC continued to explore ways of involving tenants in managing their housing, and in building community. A monthly newsletter was developed, along with a tenant handbook and calendar. Special events were held regularly to foster community—bowling nights, barbeques, garage sales and family parties. Landscaping and gardening were encouraged, and the first rooftop planters were established in our multi-storied buildings.

On the political front, by 1987 the federal government had abandoned its funding programs and the province had stepped in to develop its own programs and rulebook. CCOC became engaged with other housing providers at the local, provincial and federal level, and continued its advocacy work for successful, sustainable program funding. With our President at the time, Derek Ballantyne, we were instrumental in helping found the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) in 1988. By the end of the 1980’s, CCOC had 744 units in 34 properties.

147 Hinchey Avenue
145 Clarence Street

1990s

Changes in the political landscape Provincial funding for housing lasted until 1995, and from 1990 to 1995, we added 463 units to our stock. In 1995, the provincial government cancelled the program to build new housing. Building housing costs a lot of money, and without any government support many affordable housing providers abandoned hope of developing new properties. Not us. Although the challenge became greater, CCOC never have up on its mission to create new housing and we ratined a full-time development department even after government programs ended.

Between 1995 and 2000 there was only one new projects: a 6 unit rooming house on Eccles Street, but CCOC started investigating innovative financing ideas and affordable homeownership options. By the end of the decade we were uniquely positioned to re-invigorate our development mandate. As CCOC reached the milestone of 25 years in operation, we were recognized with several awards: the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association 1999 award of excellence; Canadian Housing and Renewal Association’s 1999 Lifetime Achievement award to Catherine Boucher, our Executive Coordinator, and certificates of appreciation from partner agencies Personal Choice for Independent Living and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

As the number of units grew along with the geographic area where our buildings were located, CCOC’s efforts at community building expanded beyond our tenants. Working with the Centretown Community Health Centre we were involved in developing the Ottawa Good Food Box program, a non-profit community-based initiative bringing neighbours together to buy a variety of delicious and nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices.

We helped to found Growing Up Downtown, a community-based initiative that offers support to families with young children who face barriers to healthy child and family development. We worked with Raising the Roof, a national charity dedicated to long term solutions to homelessness. We celebrated our 25thanniversary with a community picnic, which became an annual event for a number of years. By the end of the 1990’s we had a total of 1254 units.

123 Stirling Avenue
2341-2367 Midway

2000 – a whole new millennium!

Building our own future The millennium started with no commitment for funding for affordable housing from any senior levels of government. As housing prices rose in Centretown, we had to look further afield for properties that fit our limited budget. The City of Ottawa became an increasingly important partner, providing land and relief from fees. We redeveloped the Stirling Tavern into a two-storey walk up with 10 units, and built two infill developments at the western edge of downtown at Merivale & Mayview and Richmond, Midway & Hartleigh, adding 36 units of family housing in townhouses, stacked townhouses and duplexes. The Richmond Road project won two awards: the City of Ottawa’s Award of Merit for infill design and the Ontario Architectural Association’s award of excellence.

In 2004 Catherine Boucher was recognized with ONPHA’s Sybil Frenette Outstanding Leadership Award both for her work at CCOC and for the key role she played in the housing sector. She was our Executive Coordinator from 1988; President of ONPHA and served on the board of the Canadian Housing Renewal Association (CHRA – the federal housing association). After more than 30 years as our leader, Catherine retired in 2009. In 2006, CCOC’s board set a long range plan to “green” our housing and operations and to engage tenants in the process. In 2007, the City issued a request for proposals to develop the Beaver Barracks site, and CCOC broke ground in March 2008 on our biggest and most sustainable development project.

The new Beaver Barracks project came with the responsibility to build to a high standard of environmental performance. We hired a Green Animator to engage tenants, staff and volunteers in green living, and we undertook retrofit work at several buildings to improve energy efficiency and resident comfort. At Beaver Barracks, we installed the largest residential geo-thermal system in Canada, along with many other sustainability features. In 2009, we received ONPHA’s Going Green Award for our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. Also in 2009, Alison Kar, Rod Manchee and Patrick Savoie were recognized with ONPHA’s Tenant Achievement Award for over 30 years each volunteering with CCOC.

Much of our efforts were focused on political advocacy to re-establish housing programs and funding, but we also continued to work with the community, supporting projects like the Centretown Movies, a community dialogue about access to fresh, affordable food in Centretown West, and the CCCA’s history project. By the end of the 2000’s we had a total of 1301 units.

111 Catherine Street
160 Argyle Avenue

2010s

The next generation. We started off the decade by purchasing and renovating 54 Primrose, a 4 storey walk up with 29 bachelor units, in March of 2010. By early 2011, we’d opened the doors on 464 Metcalfe & 160 Argyle, the first phase of Beaver Barracks. And by the end of 2012, 111 Catherine and the Victory Gardens townhouses will be fully inhabited, bringing a total of 254 new units into the CCOC family.

CCOC, now almost 40 years old, has always worked to meet the housing needs of those who struggle with issues that make their housing more difficult or precarious, like mental health and addictions issues and physical disabilities. From the beginning, CCOC chose to do this in partnership with support agencies and these community partners have greatly increased our capacity to provide the best housing possible.

The rise of homelessness and the escalating costs of warehousing people in shelters caused the City to look to social housing providers to house people struggling with more complex needs and challenges. CCOC reached out to those with the expertise in the community and partnered with Canadian Mental Health Association, Options Bytown and Ottawa Salus. We now partner with 9 support agencies who support over 160 tenants, accounting for just over 10% of our housing stock. We work collaboratively to support tenants in developing the independent living skills required to manage and maintain their housing, to achieve successful tenancies and better life outcomes.

The original properties CCOC purchased and built in the 1970’s and 1980’s included 35-year mortgages, and 35-year operating agreements that came with subsidies from the federal government. Over the 2010’s, most of those mortgages will be fully paid, and most of those operating agreements will expire, along with their subsidies. With careful management and good maintenance we believe we will still be able to provide good quality, affordable rental housing, even without federal subsidies. More importantly, it won’t affect tenants, or the level of rent they pay. So far this decade, we have a total of 1597 units, but there’s still plenty of time left for more.