Innovative housing development seeks to empower women

by Neil Sharma on 03 Feb 2021

COVID-19-induced lockdown measures have disproportionately affected women’s employment, but an accomplished female developer and an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment are endeavouring to change that with a first-of-its-kind project.

Carla Guerrera, founder and CEO of Purpose Driven Development, has led complex Canadian development projects collectively worth over $1 billion, including at Toronto’s West Don Lands, over the past 20 years, and her latest project will be the first in Western Canada to be developed, designed and delivered by a team entirely composed of women. Purpose Driven Development has partnered with Soroptimist International of Vancouver to redevelop a site owned by the latter at Cambie St. and 13th Ave. into a 13-storey, 135-unit residential complex for women of all ages and all walks of life.

“We’re creating a community of women in different stages of their lives who will support each other in a community that will have a number of amenities, including shared rooftop space, an office for people who work from home, event space, a library, and more,” Guerrera told CREW. “All parts of the building, including the lobby, are designed to be shared communal spaces; inclusion and support are built into the design. The architecture reflects a vision of women and the mandate of housing for women by women.”

The site currently holds a two-storey building with 21 affordable units, but Purpose Driven and Soroptimist have been in discussion for years to build an innovative, mixed-income residential community in which all units will be affordable, albeit to varying degrees. The project already has support from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, B.C. Housing, from which the developers are in the process of securing funding, and the City of Vancouver, which waived the project’s development fees.

“All 135 units will be affordable at different levels. Over 70% will be deeply affordable or geared to income levels, and 30% will be just below market rent levels,” said Guerrera. “A project like this is always relevant, but especially now with the glaring gap in the housing needs for women. The reasons women are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to affordable housing is they’re overrepresented in service-based, low-wage work; across every industry, there’s a significant gender pay gap; and women face a disproportionate amount of gender-based violence. That affects women’s access to affordable housing.”

The pandemic has amplified all of those reasons, added Guerrera.

“Gender-based violence is being escalated right now. This project will change the lives of women and so many families. The housing crisis exists not just in Vancouver but so many cities in Canada and North America, so we want to see more projects like this come to market. We want to close the gap between women and their housing needs, and see more projects coming to market that put women in positions of leadership.”

Carla Busnardo, a board member with Soroptimist International of Vancouver, shares Guerrera’s sentiments and says that women are empowered when they have control over their lives, including where they live.

“Holding a lease in their name not only empowers women economically but supports stability and families in achieving financial independence and housing security,” she said. “This is an innovative project that we are proposing in the Broadway Corridor; it will create a community for working, senior and women-led families where they can support one another, creating a stable and healthy environment for them to live in.”

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