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Werkliv focused on building affordable student housing

Daniel Goodfellow has gone from getting help “from the bank of mom” to buy his first condo in 200...

Le Mildoré

Le Mildoré, set to complete in 2022, will house about 279 students in 70 apartments. (Courtesy WerkLiv)

Daniel Goodfellow has gone from getting help “from the bank of mom” to buy his first condo in 2002 while studying at McGill University, to building a 19-storey student rental development in downtown Montreal that promises affordability to students.

When complete in May 2022, the $48.5 million Le Mildoré at 2025 Peel St. will house about 279 students in 70 apartments. The 85,000-square-foot project is being built by Werkliv Group, which Goodfellow founded in 2012 and now heads as president.

Werkliv has about $200 million in real estate property developments in Montreal, Halifax and St. John’s.

It’s a long way from Goodfellow’s student days when he was looking for a place to stay close to McGill: “The landlords weren’t great and the prices were high.” As a result, he bought a condo on Clark Street and refitted it to house himself and two roommates.

“I thought there was something to it. I had fulfilled my own need and in a way that made sense. I thought I could do it again,” he told RENX, but it took a while to get started: “Real estate is a capital-intensive thing and I didn’t have any.”

By 2012, however, Goodfellow had graduated from the physics program and was doing better with real estate investments than at his job. He quit the job and launched Werkliv, buying two sixplexes in Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal and transforming them into student apartments.

Werkliv “pure-play developers”

Werkliv has now done about a dozen student housing projects and has 19 employees. “We are pure-play developers. We go, we develop, we rent it out, we stabilize it and then we sell it. We’re not a player that holds onto our inventory.”

In downtown Montreal, Werkliv’s other student rental apartments, which have been renovated, include:

– the 73,000-square-foot Summerhill at 1575 Summerhill Ave. with 150 occupants;

– the 42,000-square-foot The Marbridge at 1245 Saint-Marc St. with 113 occupants;

– and the 18,000-square-foot The Newport at 2087 de Maisonneuve Blvd. with 50 occupants.

“We densify each unit,” Goodfellow says, with two-bedroom apartments converted into three bedrooms. “This allows the students to divide the rent by more people (and) lowers the cost on a per-head basis.”

Apartments are also furnished, which lowers students’ expenditures.

At Le Mildoré, monthly rents will average $885 in furnished, three- or four-bedroom units of 800 to 850 square feet.

By comparison, Goodfellow says the typical price around McGill for an unfurnished apartment is about $1,000 per month per student in a three-bedroom apartment that rents for $3,000. “Here you have a furnished apartment in a new construction for $885.”

Upbrella used to build Le Mildoré

Le Mildoré (a play on words on the downtown Golden Square Mile area) is being built above a preserved ground-floor facade, a requirement by the city.

Instead of being built with a crane, the building will use technology from Upbrella, in which the roof is gradually lifted using hydraulics, with each floor completed underneath.

“The floorplate is very small, so there’s not a lot of places to put a crane,” says Goodfellow. In addition, given that much of the construction will be done in winter, using the Upbrella system saves a substantial amount on heating costs and makes for a safer work environment.

Le Mildoré’s heating and cooling system will use the domestic water supply to regulate temperatures in apartments. The integrated piping system “is not that dissimilar from a geotech heating and cooling system,” Goodfellow says.

Along with 60 bicycle parking spaces, the building will have a few common study areas and laundry.

“Our focus is on affordability so we put amenities we think students are going to use,” Goodfellow says. “We tend to stay away from things like swimming pools and gyms, things they already have in the university.”

However, study rooms were thought to be useful because there is a lack of study space at nearby McGill.

Werkliv’s other developments

Werkliv also operates The Commodore at 1675 Oxford St. in Halifax, a 33,000-square-foot building with 100 occupants.

Now under construction in the Nova Scotia capital is the six-storey Seymour at 1400 Seymour St. The 170,000-square-foot development will house 491 students, cost about $61 million and is scheduled for completion in September 2022.

In St. John’s, the planned 200,000-square foot Lambe’s Lane at 6 Lambe’s Lane is currently at the permitting stage. It aims to house 700 students.

Atlantic Canada is “an underserved market,” Goodfellow says. Unlike Ontario, which has a student housing market well-served by developers, “we found is there was nobody really paying attention to Atlantic Canada.”

The fundamentals, which include low vacancy rates and affordable prices, “made a lot of sense.”

Goodfellow says affordable student housing is becoming harder to find in cities like Montreal where housing costs are increasing. “More and more students are coming from out of region to an already incredibly tight housing market,” he says.

He notes Werkliv has not suffered any rent loss during the pandemic, instead boasting “zero vacancy and zero delinquency.”

As for future developments, Atlantic Canada, specifically Charlottetown, P.E.I., and other cities in Quebec are on Werkliv’s radar.

“This is what we do,” Goodfellow says of student housing, “We do only this. We do it very well. We’d just like to do more of it.”

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