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The Cabbagetown properties were built in the late-19th century in the Second Empire style.

D'Arcy McGovern/The Globe and Mail

Two dilapidated heritage buildings in Toronto’s Cabbagetown are slowly being transformed into new homes for some of the city’s most under-housed.

Over the past few months, Hilditch Architect Inc. has been working on the restoration of the two structures –originally divided into four semi-detached houses – to meet the needs of Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services – an agency that provides supportive housing options to women living with mental illness and substance abuse.

After restoration and renovations are complete, the four semi-detached houses at 13, 15, 17 and 19 Winchester St. will have a total of 35 self-contained units, made up of 31 bachelor and four one-bedroom apartments. The project is expected to be completed by spring 2021.

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The properties, located in Cabbagetown Northwest Heritage Conservation District (HCD), are designated under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. Built in the late 1870s and early ’80s, the homes are built in the Second Empire style, which is marked by a mansard roof with dormer windows, Tuscanesque doors and decorative details at the eaves and corners of the building that contrast with the yellow brick of the main walls.

Because of their heritage designation, Hilditch worked with heritage consultants Goldsmith Borgal & Co. Ltd. Architects during the design process for a general review of the restoration of the buildings during construction.

The renovation includes upgrading the building’s interior insulation, and implementing high-efficiency heating and cooling systems and low-energy LED lighting.

D'Arcy McGovern/The Globe and Mail

The proposed designs were also reviewed by Heritage Preservation Services by the city of Toronto, as well as Cabbagetown Northwest HCD during the planning process. In particular, Hilditch incorporated recommendations by the HCD for the restoration of the front porches. There were also consultations with the community, including the Winchester Park Residents Association.

Mary O’Neill, principal architect on the Winchester properties, said all exterior heritage features of the building are being restored following “best practice principles” for heritage designation suggested through these consultations. The interior of all the homes are also being fully renovated, although the original interior features of the home had mostly all been removed during previous renovations.

Ms. O’Neill said they faced a couple challenges while planning, such as different floor levels between the houses and having to work with existing window openings, but the high ceilings, large windows and character of the homes made up for it.

The renovation also includes upgrading the building’s interior insulation and implementing high-efficiency heating and cooling systems and low energy LED lighting and fixtures throughout.

Ms. O’Neill said that an energy model created for the project showed the proposed renovations – when compared with the condition prior to the renovation – will provide a reduction of 40 per cent in annual energy consumption and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent.

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The proposed design will reduce the number of sleeping rooms to 35, seven of which have barrier-free access.

Hilditch Architect Inc.

Landscaping is also a part of the restoration: A separate landscaping company, Amy Turner Landscape, will be adding in a mix of canopy trees, understory trees and shrub plantings, as well as vegetable planters in the front yard.

Hilditch has maintained a close relationship with Margaret’s throughout the entire process, and Ms. O’Neill says they will continue to do so throughout construction.

“Margaret’s has provided invaluable input regarding the residents they serve, their operations, their functional requirements and their aspirations for the look and feel of the spaces,” she said.

Alongside providing housing options, Margaret’s also provides support services for those experiencing issues tied to mental health and homelessness. Their services include crisis intervention, drop-in and respite centres for homeless individuals and assistance for those experiencing mental-health issues who are accused of committing low-risk offences.

Before a transfer of ownership to Margaret’s, the original properties were rooming houses owned by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and contained a total of 54 sleeping rooms. The proposed design will reduce that to 35, seven of which have barrier-free access.

The idea is to have plenty of light and a big dining room and communal kitchen that is large enough to accommodate 35 women who need to eat at the same time.

Hilditch Architect Inc.

In October, 2019, the Ontario government announced a $5.2-million investment into the Winchester project. The funding is provided through Ontario’s Home for Good supportive housing program, which provides housing assistance and support services to people experiencing homelessness or who are at imminent risk of homelessness.

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“In transferring these four rooming houses from Toronto Community Housing to Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services we are helping to end the cycle of chronic homelessness for 35 women who will be able to call these new self-contained apartments home,” said Ana Bailao, a Toronto city councillor, in a statement.

Alongside individual kitchens and living spaces in each unit, they’re planning to have an accessible common area on the ground floor that includes a common kitchen, dining area and three separate lounge spaces. Ms. O’Neill believes this, along with the home’s high ceilings, tall windows and furnishing choices, will give the space a homelike and welcoming character.

Either transitional or permanent housing will be offered to the women who will stay in the units, though the permanent housing option is more common.

Hilditch Architect Inc.

Diane Walter, executive director of Margaret’s, said they wanted to make sure it had plenty of light and a big dining room and communal kitchen that was large enough to accommodate 35 women who needed to eat at the same time.

“Folks are encouraged to dine communally,” she said. “Those with mental-health histories sometimes self-isolate, especially if they’re going through a depressive period. That’s part of the program that’s therapeutic.”

While Ms. Walter recognized that their budget for the project was tight, they still wanted something aesthetically beautiful. “I’m a stickler for that because a space that is beautiful, warm, accommodating and inviting is therapeutic.”

Ms. Walter said they are offering either transitional or permanent housing to the women who will stay in the units, although the permanent housing option is more common. She said the transitional housing program is for those who are on their way to independent living – if they can find affordable housing in the Toronto market. These residents usually stay for two to three years before finding their own place.

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“Our overall goal is really just to provide safe, secure, beautiful housing to women who have lived, or who continue to live, with a mental-health issue,” she said.

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