Insurance company dispute leaves Westboro Salus building vacant year after flood 

Construction crews work to remove the walls inside Ottawa Salus. All that’s left is the wooden beams.
Ottawa Salus said 42 tenants were displaced after a sprinkler pipe burst in February 2023. File photo provided by Ottawa Salus.

By Charlie Senack 

Westboro’s Ottawa Salus affordable housing building has been sitting vacant since February 2023 when a frozen pipe displaced 42 residents. A year later, restoration work has not started due to issues with the insurance company. 

 “We are working hard to get on the same page in terms of the extent of the damage and how much the insurance is willing to compensate,” said Heather Brown, director of philanthropy at Ottawa Salus. 

The longer it takes to reach an agreement, the longer it will take to house some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.  

“It’s not likely to be reopened until much later in 2024 or likely 2025,” said Brown. 

Ottawa was facing record-breaking cold temperatures when Westboro Salus residents were forced to flee their home. It’s estimated five to seven thousand gallons of water flowed from the burst sprinkler pipe on the building’s fourth floor. 

Initial estimates predicted damage was in the millions of dollars and that it would take at least six months to repair. 

The complex on Scott Street near Athlone Avenue was quickly stripped down to its bare studs. The damage was significant. 

Fire retardant gyprock was damaged, the elevator system stopped working, and all floorboards were lifted. To keep up with modern building code, further upgrades will also be required. 

The exterior of Ottawa Salus on a sunny day.
The exterior of Ottawa Salus’ Westboro building. File photo by Charlie Senack.

Housing the most vulnerable 

Since its founding in 1977, Ottawa Salus has provided mental health and housing services to clients. All tenants have limited incomes – most are on Ontario’s disability support program – and many struggle with substance abuse and mental health challenges.

While finding affordable housing usually takes at least a year, all residents were housed within days. Some moved in with family or friends, while others found either short-term or permanent options. 

“There is a building sitting there that could be housing vulnerable people. This is not something we are able to accommodate right now,” Brown said, adding that Ottawa is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. “There are 40 people that had to be rehoused temporarily or permanently. They are hoping to come back.”

Brown added that  the only work done in the building so far has been mold assessment and removal. While the complex is unused, overhead costs continue to impact the organization’s operating budget and wait list. Despite having 14 buildings housing over 800 clients, there are more than 500 people on years-long waitlists. 

In the meantime, Ottawa Salus has been relying on community support to also help cover the unexpected costs. In May 2023, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, who is a Wellington West resident, raised more than $26,000 for the charity during the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon.

New Salus building coming to Merivale 

In December 2023, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for a new state-of-the-art Ottawa Salus building on Capilano Drive near Merivale Road. The first-in-Canada affordable housing complex will cater to older adults with a history of mental health or addiction challenges. 

“These are people who are dealing with premature aging,” said Brown. “It could be a person in a 35 or 45-year-old body that presents issues of a 70-year-old. They’d need access to ramps; they may need a wheelchair or wider door openings. The building has a universal design throughout.”

The five-storey building will house 54 adults and is one of three affordable housing complexes coming to the popular Nepean strip. In February, 154 three-bedroom townhomes and 35 four-bedroom townhomes previously run by Minto Developments? off Chesterton Drive were acquired by Ottawa Community Housing. Across the street from the new Salus complex, Multifaith Housing is slated to be built on the site of Julian of Norwich Church. It would be rebuilt on a smaller footprint and would also include community amenity space. 

A drawing showing what the outside of the building will look like. It includes trees and a gazebo in the front.
Concept drawings showing the new Ottawa a Salus Building at 56 Capilano Drive. Provided.

Ottawa Salus chose Merivale Road as its new home given its proximity to transit, health care and retail amenities. It’s hoped the new complex will act as a precedent for supporting older adults with challenges. 

“There is very limited research of the older demographic living in a building and their physical and emotional needs not being met,” said Brown. “There will be onsite mental health services, individualized case management, recreational programs, occupational therapy and specialized therapy based on needs. We’d also partner with community organizations like Rideauwood for someone who might be dealing with substance abuse issues.”

The building is expected to be completed in late 2025. The full price tag of the project is $26 million and will be funded through all levels of government, but $five million will come through community donations. Anyone who wishes to make a donation can visit:

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