The Green Line team visited 140 Merton St., a site in Midtown Toronto where Missanabie Cree First Nation, EllisDon Community Builders and the City of Toronto have partnered to build culturally relevant affordable housing.

Joseph Sayers, general manager of Missanabie Cree Business Corporation sits at Verity Club.

Joseph Sayers, general manager of the Missanabie Cree Business Corporation, sits down at Verity Club to talk about 140 Merton St.
📸: Aneesa Bhanji/The Green Line

Amanda Seraphina James Rajakumar BW


Indian immigrant with a post-grad in journalism from Centennial College. Now living in Grange Park, meeting new people, and hearing different stories. Has four names, so it’s a pick-your-player situation.

Aneesa Bhanji BW


Currently a journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University who's also studying communication and design. Grew up in Vaughan, now living in downtown Toronto. Always loves a good chai latte.

June 14, 2024

Finding a good place to live in Toronto isn’t easy to do, and it’s especially tough for Indigenous people to find culturally relevant housing.

But in South Eglinton-Davisville, one Indigenous-led housing project is laying the foundation for affordable living in the city.

This Midtown neighbourhood boasts unique historic sites, including Regent Theatre on Mount Pleasant Road from the 1920s, and the War Amps building on Merton Street, which will soon house local seniors and Indigenous people. Built in 1959, the heritage building is part of an affordable housing project led by the Missanabie Cree First Nation that will add Indigenous space to South Eglinton-Davisville.

“[When it comes to] homelessness in Canada — definitely in Ontario and especially in Toronto — Indigenous people make up a higher percentage than their population, so they're very much overrepresented in homelessness," says Joseph Sayers, general manager of the Missanabie Cree Business Corporation.

"Looking at our elders — seniors, Indigenous seniors — they're particularly vulnerable. So, not only building assets for the wealth of the community and the community's economy, but also achieving certain important social outcomes such as addressing the homelessness issue in the GTA."

Community consultations in 2019 for 140 Merton Street.

Community consultations on 140 Merton St. in 2019.

Sayers says that 140 Merton St. will also have commercial space on the first couple of floors, which the Missanabie Cree Business Corporation hopes to populate with social enterprises and services.

“We want to attract social enterprises and services that will help Indigenous seniors in terms of their health needs, but also helping them with any kind of mental health, any kind of economic barriers, cultural barriers for them to really enjoy, you know, their senior years in the GTA and live a full, rewarding life,” he explains.

Design render of the envisioned building at 140 Merton St.

Design render of the envisioned building at 140 Merton St.
📸: EllisDon Community Builders

140 Merton is part of the City of Toronto's Housing Now initiative, which provides long-term leases of 99 years. Work on the Merton Street site began in 2019 with community consultations.

“I don't think this neighbourhood has focused at all on its Indigenous roots. So, I think that this will be literally and figuratively groundbreaking," says Jane Auster, co-president of South Eglinton Davisville Residents Association. "The design of the building is going to reflect cultural icons, and I think the opportunity is here not just to offer services, but also to offer cultural enhancement for the community at large.”

It includes space for Indigenous ceremonies, and takes inspiration from Indigenous artists like Vanessa Genier, founder of Quilts for Survivors. A design rendering shows that the exterior will look like a quilt wrapped around the building, symbolizing a Blanket Ceremony, which is when elders are wrapped with a blanket to honour them.

Jane Auster, co-president of the South Eglinton Davisville Residents Association, stands in front of 140 Merton St.

Jane Auster, co-president of the South Eglinton Davisville Residents Association, stands in front of 140 Merton St.

In 2021, the city sent out a request for proposals on the site and chose Missanabie Cree First Nation, which partnered with EllisDon Community Builders in 2022. The building plan was amended in October 2023 to have 294 rental homes instead of the initial 184. Construction was then set to begin in November 2023, but the COVID-19 pandemic and rising construction costs delayed the start to this fall.

A timeline of progress at 140 Merton St. over the past five years.
📸: Paul Zwambag for THE GREEN LINE.

Noah Slater, director of housing development, renewal and improvement for the City's Housing Secretariat, says there’ve been many Housing Now projects that have stalled in recent years due to the rising costs of construction in Toronto.

"Around 70 to 80 per cent [of projects] over the last six years [have stalled because of] volatile interest rates, and just new funding gaps opening and closing due to changes in federal programs," Slater says. "One of the biggest challenges for nonprofit projects like this one is financing — access to low-cost financing that's easily secured.

“It's not easy for a not-for-profit to secure financing in some ways or to guarantee financing.”

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