U of O grads on a mission to improve student housing

Founders' company, TCU Development Corp., puts emphasis on tenant well-being and quality construction
TCU Development site
Photo provided by TCU Development

After years of navigating housing options near the University of Ottawa, former Gee-Gees hockey teammates Mike Corneau and Billy Triantafilos quickly recognized the shortcomings of student housing, from inefficient buildings to a disregard for tenant well-being.

The friends felt that there must be a better solution. So, they created one. 

Corneau and Triantafilos founded TCU Development Corp. in 2010, a few years after they graduated, to address what Corneau called “a lack of quality accommodation in and around U of O.”

After a thorough market analysis, which included purchasing and renovating properties during their university years, Corneau and Triantafilos developed a business plan for their own real estate company using business skills learned at the Telfer School of Management. Today, TCU specializes in strategic real estate development, advisory and project management.

From the beginning, Corneau and Triantafilos were dedicated to “boots-on-the-ground research” and being involved in every stage of development, from planning and permitting to construction and property management. 

“Our research showed a lack of quality accommodation, overall cleanliness, material solution and durability of the units,” said Corneau. 

Manages $1B in assets

TCU currently has about 750 units under development, with 89 projects completed to date. It manages an estimated $1 billion in assets.

“We're proud to keep growing and keep planning three, four, five years ahead,” said Corneau.

Investors and real estate brokers have shown great interest and support, but, perhaps most importantly, the response from tenants has been incredibly positive, they said.

“Having been tenants ourselves at a very young age and co-ordinating with property management, we saw challenges that people go through on a daily basis,” said Corneau. “Something we wanted to make a difference on is with the people living in our buildings and how we could make things easier and helping them with their mental and physical health by providing guidance.”

""It’s amazing what they’ve been able to achieve."

Saël Nemorin is the founder and president of Nemorin Group, a real estate development company based in Ottawa and an investor in TCU Development. Not only does Nemorin consider Corneau and Triantafilos “mentors,” but he noted it is “fascinating where they started and where they are today.”

“It’s amazing what they’ve been able to achieve,” he said. “But it’s no surprise because of the way they conduct themselves and the culture they create. It’s the way they do business.”

Nemorin said the “much-needed” wellness program is a necessary step in the real estate industry.

In the beginning, TCU’s efforts to support tenants involved one-on-one support from Corneau and Triantafilos themselves. But as the company grew, TCU developed a mobile application for tenants that includes 24/7 support and live counselling.

The program also has hundreds of articles, podcasts, resources and tools for physical, mental and financial wellness. TCU residents were the first in North America to have access to the program.

'Feel-good program'

“We were able to craft this program to be there when we aren't,” said Triantafilos. “We are able to see lots of benefits from it, and it’s a feel-good program at the same time.”

This year, Corneau and Triantafilos expect to expand the program to include more offers and discounts, virtual and in-person events and programming.

After orginally meeting at uOttawa two decades ago, Corneau and Triantafilos have come full circle. Through TCU, they have supported organizations throughout eastern Ontario, such as The Ottawa Hospital, Gee-Gees men’s hockey program, Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, Ottawa Food Bank, Cumberland Minor Hockey Association, Bruyère Foundation, Ride for the Cure, Toy Mountain and CASCO.

“It’s amazing, 20 years later, to come back and develop in the neighbourhood where there's a housing crisis, a lack of inventory, and people need somewhere to live,” said Triantafilos.