Amid city hall overhaul, adjacent apartment tenants ask: What about us?

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Will the redevelopment of London’s city hall campus affect the apartments at the Centennial House building next door? It’s unlikely any time soon, but the uncertainty is giving some tenants anxiety.

The city’s plan to redevelop the city-owned land, which includes city hall at 300 Dufferin Ave., Centennial Hall, Reg Cooper Square, and the Centennial House office and residential building, was recently given the green light by city politicians, with developers set to submit proposals.

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City officials want to move city council and some staff into a new building on-site, while the 53-year-old city hall would be refurbished. City staff are now working at 12 different locations downtown at a cost of $3 million annually, and this would bring them under one roof with room to spare.

The exact plans for the rest of the campus are not clear, with staff reports singling out Centennial Hall and its land, but only referencing “consideration of long-term plans” for Centennial House. According to its website, the city-owned building is managed by Briarlane Property Management Inc.

The London Free Press did not receive a response to a request for comment from city officials.

Sarah McKay, a two-year tenant of the building with her two kids, considered herself lucky to nab a place in the relatively affordable building after her previous rental was sold.

“I looked at 21 places, applied to 15, this was my last chance to have a place and I got told, yes, within the week that we had to move,” she said.

The 10-storey building has 162 units ranging from bachelor suites to four bedroom apartments, 10 ground-floor commercial spaces, and has access to underground parking.

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McKay has been anxiously watching coverage of the city hall redevelopment plan, which includes her home. She fears having to apartment hunt yet again, whether it’s from a teardown and rebuild or extensive renovations to the older building. She also fears for other families and seniors who specifically chose the building for being more affordable.

According to a May rental market snapshot, the average asking rent for a one-bedroom apartment in London sat at $1,770.

“Finding a place isn’t easy nowadays,” she said. “I moved there because of affordability within my price range, and honestly, looking at rent nowadays, you’re looking at $1,600 not all inclusive, for a place that is 551 square feet.”

Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreira
Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreira speaks during a debate at London city hall on June 10, 2024. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreria, who represents downtown, says he’s committed to staying in touch with the residents and preserving the relatively affordable housing stock.

“I know residents of the building, I’m in constant contact with some of them. It’s my intention to ensure that their housing is secure,” he said. “Council is aware that people live there. I can say myself that I want to make sure that people hold on to their housing.”

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Given the arrangement that the city has with Briarlane, Ferreira believes the building won’t be included in any redevelopment plans any time soon, but says internal or external renovations are up to management. “The building needs a lot of work.”

City staff are looking to launch the bid process for private firms to get involved in the redevelopment of the city hall campus in early 2025. The proposals will include a residential tower.

City council has earmarked $125 million for the new city hall, money that was approved during the 2020-23 multi-year budget.

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