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Choo plans $2B student housing investment, seniors living growth

An Envie housing development for university students in Ottawa. (Courtesy Choo Communities)

Choo Communities plans to invest $2 billion to build 10,000 student housing beds across Canada over the next several years under its Envie banner.

The developer has already invested $600 million to build about 3,000 beds of student housing in Ottawa near Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.

It also plans to break ground early in 2023 on another 900-bed student housing project in two towers at the corner of Princess and Alfred Streets near Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Each development costs about $200 million.

Announcements for two additional student housing developments near two other universities will be made next year. This will give Choo Communities about 5,000 beds near five campuses in an investment of close to $1 billion.

“We are halfway there in our acquisitions,” said David Choo, owner of Ottawa-based Choo Communities. “We are building a portfolio of the most modern student living in the country (and) I don’t think it would be a stretch to say on the continent.”

Choo said he is looking to partner with landowners who may have appropriate locations near Canadian universities to build out the additional 5,000 beds.

He named Vancouver (close to Simon Fraser University), Hamilton, London, Calgary and Edmonton among the cities that could see Envie projects in the coming years, calling the planned $2 billion investment in the Envie portfolio “significant.”

“There’s a big shortage of good quality student accommodations,” he said. “We want to provide 10,000 beds that are the most modern in the country.”

Ottawa student housing development

The first Envie development, the 1,100-bed Envie – Little Italy, at 101 Champagne Ave. S. in Ottawa, targets Carleton students.

It was followed by Envie Rideau, which was completed in late August and consists of two 30-storey towers that are about 65 per cent leased. Choo expects the 900-bed project at 56 Rideau St. to be fully leased by next May or September by University of Ottawa students.

Fully furnished studios at Envie Rideau start at $1,700 per month. Amenities include lounges, study areas, an outdoor rooftop area and fitness rooms for both cardio and weights.

Choo said Envie Rideau is helping to dispel the notion that Sandy Hill, which is home to many University of Ottawa students residing in single-family homes, is a student ghetto. “We think we’re helping to solve some of the student housing shortage for Ottawa U.”

Choo said he is building “self-contained communities that provide students all the needs to have a healthy environment to do well in school. We are as lofty in our goals to say that we hope the future leaders of our country are going to come from the Envie brand.”

Astoria senior community

On the seniors housing front, Choo Communities is also building the 350-unit Astoria, a luxury lifestyle community for Ottawa seniors.

It consists of two interconnected buildings of 10 and eight storeys at 130 and 136 Central Park Dr. Units range from 407 to 1,152 square feet.

The development is an extension of the existing two-building Alavida Lifestyles Park Place Community at the site, which involves an investment of more than $300 million.

Astoria will provide everything from luxury living for independent seniors to luxury end-of-life care.

“Some brands operate what they call a seniors' independent building,” Choo said. “The problem is that as you get older and your health care needs increase, then those brands boot you out and you have to find another brand to take care of you.”

By contrast, residents in the Alavida community can be streamlined into other buildings that provide additional services if their health-care needs increase.

A rendering of the Astoria luxury lifestyle community, an extension of the two-building Alavida Lifestyles Park Place Community. (Courtesy Choo Communities)

“We have the facilities to provide any degree of care that you want and need,” Choo said. “More and more, that’s what the smart senior wants. Once you come into the community, why would you ever want to leave? That’s a promise we make in the Alavida brand.”

The first Astoria building provides independent living, limited access to dining facilities and “the most flexible options in Ottawa” for autonomous seniors. The other building includes a full meal plan and entry into the Alavida health care platform.

“If you come to an Alavida community, we can take care of you at all stages. There’s no brand in the country that’s doing it in the way we’re doing it,” he said.

“Living in these buildings is your own private resort. It’s going to have the feel of a resort. Everything that you need for luxury living is there at your fingertips and within walking distance. That’s the new leading-edge platform for senior living.”

Residents will start moving into the first Astoria buildings in June 2023 and the second building will be finished six to eight months later.

Westboro neighbourhood growth

Choo Communities will also be increasing its presence in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood.

“We have holdings there which account for 10 per cent of the entire urban residential portfolio of Westboro, the most popular urban community in the city,” Choo says.

“We’re building over 400,000 square feet of luxury rentals, luxury condos and a seniors-oriented residential building in Westboro similar to Astoria."

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