EMD-Batimo is exporting its Lib concept of rental units for active retirees and semi-retirees from Quebec to Ontario with Lib Kanata, a $140-million, 236-unit development in suburban Ottawa that will begin construction in July.
Ontario “is definitely a market we want to jump in,” Francis Charron, president of Batimo and vice-president of EMD Construction, told RENX.
EMD-Batimo has completed three Lib developments for residents aged 55-and-over in Quebec and “we want to build four or five Libs a year for the next many years” in Quebec and Ontario.
Charron says EMD-Batimo’s Ontario Lib projects will concentrate on the Ottawa region and Southern Ontario but will bypass the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for now.
“The GTA is a strong market with strong players that control the land,” he said. “I think we will have a lot of opportunity for the next two years, so we’ll move on with the markets we know will be successful and if we have an opportunity in the GTA, no doubt we’ll go there.”
Lib caters to specific niche of older adults
Lib developments meet the needs of retirees and semi-retirees who are looking to sell their homes, but are not ready to move to a seniors’ residence, Charron said. “Lib is between multires and seniors’ housing.”
Baby boomers questioned in surveys and focus groups expressed a desire for some amenities found in seniors housing – such as a full kitchen without a chef, a swimming pool without activities and a party room.
Their sentiment was, “I’m really too young to live in seniors’ housing,” he said.
Developers need to understand the baby boomer demographic, Charron explained, noting they do not want anything less than quartz counters and stainless-steel appliances.
“We’ve done more than 4,000 doors in senior housing. This is where our expertise is because we spend a lot of time there.”
Lib Kanata, to be built on Kanata Avenue facing the Kanata Centrum Shopping Centre, comes on the heels of the opening of the $70 million Lib Aylmer, a six-storey building with 160 rental units at Principale Street and Wilfrid-Lavigne Boulevard in the Aylmer district of Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.
“We’ll definitely use Lib Aylmer to show our (Kanata) prospects the Lib concept,” Charron said.
Lib Aylmer incorporates the former Aylmer Academy, built in 1861, and houses four apartments with stone walls and common areas. “Some residents went to school there and now live in that building,” he said.
Common areas include a lounge, pool tables, a gym, a community kitchen for sharing meals with family or friends, a heated indoor swimming pool, inner courtyard, a virtual golf room, inner courtyard and patio spaces with barbecues.
There are more than 200 indoor and outdoor parking spaces.
The units range in size from 517 square feet (studios) to 1,318 square feet (three-bedrooms).
They are 88 per cent rented, with tenants paying from about $1,200 to $2,800 per month in rent.
“I would expect in the next two months, we will be fully occupied.”
EMD-Batimo controls "entire investment process"
Given high interest rates and skyrocketing construction costs, Charron estimated 50 to 75 per cent of new rental projects have either been cancelled or delayed recently, which will result in a “huge disconnect” between supply and demand for several years.
He said EMD-Batimo can get projects off the ground because it acts as builder, developer and operator for most of its projects: “We control the entire investment process.”
Lenders are asking developers about their track records “and if you don’t have a solid track record, they will close the door right away,” he noted.
Charron said lenders are also asking developers about their pipelines, their financial capacity to reinvest in their projects or do cash calls and their ability to control costs.
“If you don’t have a really huge track record with a lot of success, if you don’t have the vertical integration, and if you don’t have the capacity to re-inject into the project, you will have a really hard time for the next two years,” he said.
“As my dear friend Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’
"This is the position I took as the president of my company.”
Founded in 1998, EMD-Batimo’s portfolio includes condominiums and rental properties in addition to retirement homes.