What’s Going Up: Affordable Housing Apartment Offered on Yonge

‘I want to do something to help people have a roof over their heads,’ says head of church foundation offering affordable 12-storey apartment in Newmarket

Father Pishoy Salama said he witnessed the needs of the poor while on a study sabbatical at Harvard Divinity School in 2019.

The leader of St. Maurice and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church said he saw the difference between the prestigious students on the well-kept campus and the homeless just outside.

He decided that his end-of-term project would focus on “living with dignity and respect”.

“I want to do something to help people have a roof over their heads,” he said. “The best way for humans to live with dignity and respect is to have a roof over their heads and to have some kind of independence in their lives.”

Now Salama and her congregation hope to make it happen in Newmarket. As part of the new charity Trinity Coptic Foundation, they purchased land at 17151 Yonge Street, across from the York Region headquarters. There, Salama said they plan to build a 12-story, 290-unit apartment building, designed entirely as affordable housing.

“We are very excited about the project as it will provide a lifeline for so many people who have been marginalized or forgotten,” he said.

The parish based in Markham is part of the Coptic Orthodox Church, a church originating in Egypt. The parish was established in 2007 and created an iconic church in 2016. The province later recognized it as a tourist attraction in 2019.

Many members of the Coptic Orthodox Church have moved abroad due to religious persecution, Salama said.

“It’s important for us to give back to Canada because so many of our community members came as immigrants, as refugees,” he said. “We now believe it is time for us to give back to the community for our adopted homeland.”

The purchase of the property was made possible thanks to the previous owner who agreed to donate a third of the cost, he said, with the rest covered by a bank loan. To build, Salama said they would rely on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to cover some of the construction costs, as well as grants from other government entities. Fundraising is a possibility if needed, he added.

The foundation has yet to officially submit a planning application, so details are yet to come. But Salama said they had positive pre-consultation meetings with the city.

Ward 5 Councilor Bob Kwapis said housing options are vital in Newmarket.

“Affordable rental housing, located on a main corridor, is extremely important,” said Kwapis.

“We need to plan a pipeline of affordable housing opportunities and projects of different types,” Mayor John Taylor said. “It’s far from over, and it’s only the beginning, but I’m very excited.”

The property has been inactive for several years and is zoned for mixed commercial and residential use. Its neighbors are businesses, including restaurants.

Mission Thrift Store is a few locations from the property. Manager Liz Croft said it was a good thing for the town.

“If it’s just condos going up, then I have reservations. But if it’s affordable housing for people, then I think it’s necessary,” she said.

The community has a strong understanding of affordable housing needs, Taylor said.

“We’re an incredibly inclusive community that wants to make sure we’re building a community that provides housing options for everyone, not just those who can afford a single family home.”

The development will have to go through a planning process like any other, Taylor said. Nothing has been officially approved yet.

The timing is yet to be determined, but Salama said they hope to be able to put the shovels in the ground by next summer, with an expected construction schedule of two years.

“This is a grassroots movement by an immigrant community to embrace the great Canadian family.”

Lora M. Andrew