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Edmonton housing supports women, children fleeing domestic violence

Russell Hixson
Edmonton housing supports women, children fleeing domestic violence
Q4A — A rendering shows a new townhouse community being planned for southwest Edmonton by Q4 Architects and Avana. A portion of the project's units will be designated as affordable housing for women and child victims of domestic violence.

The design for a new rental townhome community in Edmonton’s Creekwood Chappelle neighbourhood has been unveiled.

The project will deliver 134 townhomes in a community with green spaces, trails and public amenities. Marking one of the first purpose-built rental communities in the neighbourhood, over 30 per cent of suites will be dedicated as affordable housing and, more specifically, for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Frances Martin-DiGiuseppe is the founder and president of Q4A, the project’s architecture firm. It is rare for an architecture firm to be female-led especially one the size of Q4A, explained Martin-DiGiuseppe, a 40-year veteran of the industry. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the firm’s employees are women, many of them in leadership roles.

“I feel that we have a different perspective,” she said. “We believe in architecture with a social cause. Obviously we do work for developers and builders. Residential has always been our passion. Anywhere that people live is our focus. This is where I started my career a long time ago, doing lots of non-profit housing. This is an opportunity to really get back to those roots.”

The project is being designed for Saskatchewan-based Avana, a family-owned real estate company that is a perfect pairing for Q4A.

“We wanted to be involved with a client that shares this passion, this desire,” said Martin-DiGiuseppe. “We honestly look for clients like this. This was an easy one and such a good fit right from day one.”

Martin-DiGiuseppe and her team took great care to design spaces that integrate residents into the community and make them feel safe.

“The design of the project has to be supportive,” she said. “There has to be a positive environment.”

This meant not separating affordable housing units from other units in the project and having amenities for families like powder rooms, room for a dining room table and kitchen islands, pantries for busy single parents to store food from limited grocery runs, bathtubs to help bathe children, private balconies to get fresh air,  sight lines to the street and the project’s central coutryard.

“In every one of Avana’s projects, we look to reduce as many barriers for women and children affected by intimate partner violence as possible,” said Jenn Denouden, CEO of Avana, in a press release. “In particular, what makes the Chappelle development an exciting milestone for our company is the opportunity to build affordable options in a community with a less than five per cent affordability rating, while breaking the mould for what affordable housing can be. These attainable, safe and beautiful homes will create a steady foothold for survivors to rebuild and we at Avana are incredibly excited to be a part of that journey.”

Martin-DiGiuseppe said she believes diversity is asset when it comes to creating the built environment and is proud that her firm has attracted many women as well as other diverse groups.

“Because I’m a mother and a grandmother I can identify what it must be like to suddenly try to do things on your own,” she said. “I think women can bring a different lens and can be agents of change because they don’t necessarily look at things the same way.”

Martin-DiGiuseppe said diversity has especially been beneficial in Toronto’s residential market where many new Canadians are looking for homes. The firm has first generation immigrants from 14 different countries who are able to give their perspective.

“I think that is really helpful,” she said.

She added while large public projects like museums or government facilities often get a great deal of attention in the architecture community, she has remained passionate about homes.

“I won’t say a beautiful museum doesn’t have an impact, but I’ve always looked at it this way: We spend 60 per cent of our lives in our homes and the pandemic has cast a spotlight on how we live,” she said. “It’s my perspective that the power of architecture is to impact our lives and this is most realized in the home.”

She believes if she has done her job right, residents will have far less chaos in their day-to-day lives and won’t quite realize why.

The project is expected to be completed in 2022.


Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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