Supportive housing concept narrowly approved

Indwell CEO Jeff Neven and Chatham-Kent campaign launch leader Scott Brush are shown outside the vacant St. Agnes School in this file photo. Chatham-Kent council has approved helping to fund the supportive housing effort,

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Despite the naysayers, Chatham-Kent council approved a $9.7-million funding request from Indwell to create supportive housing at the former St. Agnes School.

But the municipality’s commitment could be significantly lower if the Christian non-profit opts to scale back the project from its initial 95-unit plan.

Playing into the March 6 decision was the looming March 15 application deadline for the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative Funding, with council learning it’s unclear if a second round of similar funding will become available.

At C-K council, Indwell’s request was narrowly approved in an 8-6 vote.

Several councillors expressed their displeasure with the size of the ask and the tight timeframe.

A motion by Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy to defer the decision to gather more information was defeated 12-2. In his comments, Bondy said he didn’t think the Croydon Street Chatham location is right for the neighbourhood and he’s “very uncomfortable” drawing $10 million from CK’s strategic reserves.

Bondy also said the last-minute pressure tactic didn’t sit well with him.

The discussion evoked a similar response from other councillors, with East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault stating the municipality “simply can’t afford” the request.

But on the flip side, council heard homelessness isn’t going away and the need for the type of supportive housing Indwell provides is dire.

Polly Smith, director of employment and social services for the municipality, said homelessness continues to rise throughout Ontario, and Chatham-Kent is no exception.

In a presentation to council, Smith said 500 local residents experienced homelessness in 2021, with an average of three new people applying for help each week. According to Smith, market rents have doubled in recent times, incomes haven’t kept pace, as Chatham-Kent’s average income is 25 per cent lower than the Ontario average. 

A total of 10,000 residents in the municipality live on social assistance and 12 per cent of the local population is considered low income.

There is a definite “gap” in the type of supportive housing Indwell provides, Smith said, stressing the problems of chronic homelessness are complex and costly.

A Christian charity, Indwell is known throughout Ontario for providing low-income housing that comes with assistive supports, such as on-site health-care personnel. 

Smith said that for every $1 invested in supportive housing, there’s a $1.52 multiplier benefit in the community.

“These are the expensive problems to fix, where people are seriously unwell,” Smith said, adding the involvement of police and health care with the chronically homeless costs more than investing in supportive housing.

Chief Administrative Officer Michael Duben and Dr. April Rietdyk, C-K’s general manager of community services, both said that if the application didn’t go forward, Chatham-Kent would miss out on the funding option as it is a very competitive process. 

Duben also said there’s an opportunity to engage in discussion with the federal government on the matter after the application is made in the event changes are made to downsize the project.

Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew, who was clearly upset by the pushback against the Indwell ask, said everyone in Chatham-Kent deserves a safe neighbourhood to live in.

“We represent people who are not taxpayers,” Crew said. “This really frustrates me. Yes, these things do cost money, but so do the people living under the bridge.”

As part of the lengthy discussion on the matter and in response to the large size of the ask, Indwell’s director of projects and development said downsizing the project is do-able.

“I definitely believe there’s room to recalibrate the amount of units on site,” Graham Cubbit told council, adding the project could be scaled back about 30 per cent and could be revamped to a two-storey complex.

He added it’s Indwell’s goal to “minimize” the amount the municipality will contribute, adding he understood council’s concern with the large amount of the request.

But he stressed that the application would likely have little success at the federal level without municipal backing.

A handful of delegations opposed the Indwell build, ranging from complaints the proposed three-storey build won’t fit in with the architecture of the neighbourhood to fears of increased crime, were made at the meeting.

The Indwell request was brought before council in January prior to budget talks, but it was not part of the budget process.

As it stands, the total estimated cost of the Indwell project with 95 units is about $27 million.

Council’s decision allows the municipality to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell and to officially submit the proposal.


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