Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — The view overlooking Gravenhurst Bay at the end of Isaac Street is the best in town.

On a sunny Friday afternoon — with whirling winds whipping snowdrifts up from Muskoka Lake — it’s still breath-taking.

An inviting vista of the Segwun, Wenonah and Wharf for a couple of lucky homeowners who live at the top of the hill.

Soon it will be home to about 100 new neighbours, plus staff, at the high end of Isaac Street.

In a “surprise” announcement Thursday, the federal and district governments said they were providing financial support for a multi-million-dollar mixed housing and care home project for “seniors, people living with disabilities or mental health issues.”

The hastily-called virtual announcement had the CMHC and town boasting ‘Canada to build nearly 100 new affordable homes in Gravenhurst.’

“Even the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to the town,” said CAO Scott Lucas. “Obviously a lot of excitement around the affordable nature of, at least a part, of the project.”

The three-storey building, at 550 Isaac Street — on the west side of the downtown next to the Lookout — includes 95 residential suites with services, as well as a large kitchen, an activity and common area, laundry facilities, health centre and physiotherapy rooms. The new homes will include a mix of bachelor, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments.

Work has already begun with clearing and services in place and shovels are expected to be in the ground within months.

Even in winter the view overlooking the Muskoka Wharf will be breath-taking

for 95 new residents of the retirement home/affordable housing project.

Early concept drawings, above and below, tweeted by Leonard Ojha shows where the retirement home would overlook the Segwun at the Muskoka Wharf.

Ottawa’s investment is $23.2 million from the National Housing Strategy’s National Housing Co-investment Fund (NHCF), says a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corportation (CMHC) release.

Muskoka Community Futures contributed $600,000.

The district’s contribution is $960,000 through its Affordable Housing Initiatives Program (MAHIP),” said Jackie Mattice, its director of programs, housing division.

Through the program, she said yesterday in an email to MuskokaTODAY.com, that the district has “committed funding in the amount of $960,000 to support 12 of the 30 affordable units ($80,000 per unit).”

The Alexander Group approached the district about their project and successfully re-applied for funding last April under the district’s MAHIP, which was built up with a $1 million donation from a Gravenhurst resident who several years ago intended it for subsidized housing in the Gravenhurst.

The Alexander Group originally sought MAHIP funding for 32 units, but there wasn’t enough funding available a couple of years ago.

Mattice called it “an exciting partnership for the District of Muskoka and for the Town of Gravenhurst. The project supports the goal of the district’s 10-year housing and homeless plan to provide ‘housing for everyone,’ and to increase affordable housing supply in Muskoka.”

Several housing projects in Gravenhurst have received similar funding from the district’s MAHIP.

According to the group’s April 2021 MAHIP application “the funded units will be priced in accordance with the affordable rental rates as specified in the MAHIP program framework and the proponents are prepared to enter into a capital funding agreement that requires the rents to be maintained at an affordable level for 20 years.”

The retirement home project would overlook Gravenhurst Bay at 520 Isaac Street. Services are already in place awaiting spring shovels in the ground now that funding has been secured.
Managing parter Leonard Ojha expects construction to begin this “spring/summer” with a substantial completion date of December 2023.

The project is the culmination of long-term planning and ongoing search for funding partners by Leonard Ojha, managing partner of Alexander Muskoka Residence.

He’s been working on the project since at least 2014 when he bought the land, originally setting out at various times to build only a retirement home with between 76 and 121 units. Over the eight years the project was met by some opposition over density within the historically residential neighbourhood.

Ojha, himself, protested efforts in Bracebridge by a different developer to build a retirement home, saying there are enough retirement home units until post 2030, according to a town report there.

“Our goal is to provide a leading older adult community that is affordable and built to a high efficiency standard would not have become a reality without CMHC’s support,” he said in remarks issued in the release. “CMHC’s investment, along with our other partners the District of Muskoka, Muskoka Community Futures and our limited partners, was fundamental in making our project a reality.”

During the video announcement, he said the supportive independent living studio units would be $2,475 per month. And he said the plan is for the facility to be aging in place allowing residents to move in to more care units.

Several attempts yesterday afternoon to reach Ojha for real details and comment about the overall cost were unsuccessful.

The beautiful high-end waterfront property overlooks the Muskoka Wharf where the Segwun and Wenonah II sail each summer on Lake Muskoka.

He was joined on the announcement call by Mayor Paul Kelly representing the district; Ahmed Hussen, the federal Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion; Jennifer O’Connell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities; and Newmarket-Aurora MP Tony Van Bynen.

The latest units come as demolition and excavation are underway now on another 24-unit apartment building in the lower level off First Street next to the Seniors’ Centre on the Central Plumbing property previously owned by former mayor Bob Betts. It will also include some semi-detached units at street level with accessory apartments. Zoning and site plan talks are underway.

As well, two large rental apartment buildings are rising above ground at the south end of town.

“Yeah, really exciting contributing to the housing stock in town,” added Lucas.

See a link to the video announcement here — at the 29:30-minute mark.

Demolition and excavation is underway on First Street north, in Gravenhurst, where a 24-unit apartment building is under planning review. It could also include street level semis and accessory apartments.

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