Ottawa’s gayest condo a source of heated controversy
Central Condo—Ottawa’s gayest and swankiest condo located at Bank and Gladstone—has been a source of controversy in town. Anti-poverty activists crashed last week’s launch party and clashed with police. They’re angry at the gentrification of Ottawa and claim the developers, Urban Capital Property Group, are pushing affordable housing out of the neighbourhood, decrying the residents as “social elites.”
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Jarret Anderson, owner of a lovely one bedroom on the fifth floor, loves living at Central. A civil servant, Anderson works for Industry Canada while studying part-time.
“It’s really exciting to be living here because it’s right between the Glebe and downtown,” he said. “I work on Bank Street, the grocery store is on Bank. I live on Bank. There’s also the Village on Bank Street.”
He finds it cool that Central is right next to the Village, even though he admits there isn’t much going on in it. “But the Village had no bearing as to why I moved in here,” Anderson adds. “The [experience in the condo] is kind of crazy. Two of my best friends live across from me. In the Central Facebook group there’s also a lot of gays.”
“One of my neighbours on this floor is also gay,” he goes on. “A lot of neighbours actually!” Anderson runs into residents at Edge and is surprised at how many gay men live in the building.
“I would say there is probably more village-related stuff in this building than in the actually Ottawa village,” he says. “I’m excited for when the condo board forms because we can have parties and events and I’m sure they’ll be fun because it seems like half the people living here are gay so you know [they] can party.”
Branding, social elites, and the Village
Many of the LGBTQ community who bought properties in the condo were hoping that the developers would build on the brand of the Village and yet they’re rebranding the neighbourhood, which will include three more phases of condos, “South Central.” This re-brand is what initially sparked the protests and created the illusion that everyone living in the condo was socially elite.
“I don’t even know why they want to change the name,” Anderson says. “We’re still downtown, still Centretown. If they did change it, it would be cool. I don’t like the name ‘South Central’, I think ‘SoGlad’ would be cool because it’s Gladstone, it’s happy.”
“The protesters are kind of crazy,” he adds. “They’re not just protesting the name, they’re protesting everything, saying students can’t live here, and gays can’t live here and I’m a gay student!”
“I’m the social elite, what?” he says with a big smile. “I’m 25, I graduated a while ago, I work for the government. I’m no elite.”
A few floors down John Rausseo and his girlfriend live in a two-bedroom plus den whose patio overlooks the condo’s private park. He is the Sustainable Campus Manager at the University of Ottawa and one of the reasons he bought his condo was for its environmental Lead Certification status.
“When I first bought my condo, I did not know initially that it was primarily meant for the gay community,” he says. “Then when I found out, I didn’t actually care that much.”
“I know the building was in the village towards the end of the gaybourhood,” adds Rausseo. “In my job, I’m actually a gay ally. I work with the Pride centre a lot; I have some gay friends. My girlfriend’s best friend is gay. I know that in gay districts, you have much better shops, a stronger community, more of a bohemian lifestyle so I was definitely attracted to that.”
When asked what he thought of the moving away from the gay village and into the South Central brand, Rausseo’s comments echo that of Anderson’s. “It’s a little strange trying to rebrand a portion of the city,” he said. “When I came here, I knew first and foremost this is Centretown. I find it really strange you would create a condo that’s primarily marketing probably towards gay people then afterwards try to change it to South Central.”
Rausseo points our the pompousness of renaming an area of Ottawa that’s rich with history, particularly after having built only one condo, lined up a second and a third and without notice or community consolation jumping to an entirely new name. “I can see how people are pretty angry about trying to change the name on a whim of we’re putting up four condos amongst hundreds of buildings,” he says.
“When I saw the protest I thought, I’m going to join this,” he says. “Technically there was nothing they were saying that I disagreed in any way even though I live in the building.”
Rausseo agreed with the protesters’ argument of low-income housing. “This condominium complex doesn’t have any designated low-income housing,” he says. “That was unsettling for me. That helps a community, not hinders it. There are tons of studies that show that it does nothing to impede property value whatsoever.”
“Secondly, [the protesters] were focusing on gentrification,” he says. “The idea [is] that as these high-end condos came into place, they would be displacing groups, communities and so forth that may not fit with this high-end luxury lifestyle. I didn’t like that idea either; I think that things are more beautiful when you have old and new. It’s the mix that makes this nice.”
“The third argument is that as you start gentrifying luxury areas with high-end condos, you change the fabric of the types of business that do in fact operate there,” he points out. “Your little diners, your cute independent shops get pushed out of the way not because they can’t exist in that kind of area but seemingly if you have more money and disposable income, it prompts people to sell their shops, sell their buildings to people who are willing to pay double or triple the rent or who in fact just want to come and put up new buildings.”
For Rausseo, all of these arguments resonated, particularly as he is attracted to the mosaic and diversity of a community as opposed to a neighbourhood where everything is the same. That’s why the couple moved to Central Condos in the first place. Full of little shops and activity, the end of the gaybourhood is a definitely a hot spot in Ottawa.
“This building has a lead silver certification, which is not too bad for this style of building,” he explains. “The environmental footprint of a building is much bigger than a house. I liked the idea that they had big patios that I could grow fruits and vegetables on outside.”
“Lead silver is the low entry for Lead Certification,” he explains. “This building is ok. It’s got a high level of glazing, which means you’re going to deal with a lot of heat coming in so that’s not necessarily a bonus. It’s got a nice look and feel: they’ve incorporated an old church façade into the design of the buildings so they’ve respected the heritage to a degree.”
The building has features like shared elements, shared open areas, shared party room and exercise room that reduces the energy impact of a building. However, for Rausseo, it does seem the building is moving into the lower level of environmental performance.
“I don’t see like drought resistance plants around the building. I don’t see things like any high efficiency materials being used inside the building and I don’t see things designed in the building encourage use of stairs as opposed to the elevator,” he adds.
Rausseo does point out that the material used in the building is efficient and that there is a common garbage chute that includes recycling, which are elements that help to reduce its footprint.
Who would have thought Ottawa’s gayest condo would be struck with so much media attention and painted in such a negative light. We’ll have to wait for the parties Anderson was talking about to let go off some of that negative energy and in mingling with each other try to look at solutions to some of the issues addressed by the protesters and the residents.
Banner photo: blog.ottawamove.com
Photos of Anderson and Rausseo by Sanita Fejzic