Several councillors, residents speak out against it
By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite the concerns of neighbours and some members of council, rezoning has been approved to allow a new Indwell supportive housing build to go forward in Chatham.
At a recent planning meeting, Chatham-Kent council agreed to include supportive housing as a permitted use of the property – the site of the former St. Agnes Catholic school.
Located at 55 Croydon St., the vacant structure is in an established area surrounded by older bungalow-style detached homes.
Various concerns were expressed to council by those who will be Indwell’s future neighbours. Some said the build would devalue their property; others that the architecture doesn’t fit in with the neighbourhood; some said they wouldn’t feel safe; and one resident stated, “recovering people shouldn’t be stacked together.”
Others said they fear there isn’t enough green space or room for a smoking area to accommodate the residents.
Some – including several councillors – took issue with size of the project, which many believed would be smaller. As it stands, Indwell is proposing a 95-unit complex. A total of 71 units would be part of a new three-storey structure, with the remaining 24 housed in the repurposed footprint of the school. The gymnasium would continue to exist as a community amenity.
Some councillors said they would not have voted in favour of the build in March if they had been fully aware of its large scale.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy said he thinks the project is a “terrible fit” for the neighbourhood.
“We don’t have to put things in because it’s a feel-good thing to do,” Bondy explained. “From a planning perspective I don’t think it’s a good idea – it’s a terrible idea.”
Bondy added he didn’t think adding an “institution” to a sleepy, quiet neighbourhood is the right move.
His comments were met by applause and shouts of “thank you” from the gallery.
South Kent Coun. Ryan Doyle, who put forward an unsuccessful motion to reduce the size of the facility to 71 units from 95, said he would not have voted in favour of having 95 units on the site.
“We wouldn’t be here today,” Doyle said.
Indwell, a Christian charity that has successfully developed similar supportive housing units in other Ontario cities, received council’s blessing to proceed in March, with the municipality committing $9.7 million to the project through strategic reserves. At the time, council had to make a quick decision in order to meet the federal Rapid Housing Initiative application deadline.
However, Indwell’s project has plenty of support.
In support of the project and the zoning change, Chatham Coun. Brock McGregor referenced the Ontario Human Rights Code which states that all people have the right to housing without discrimination.
“So, I think that it’s important to note when we’re voting on this, we’re really voting on the type of people that can live there and realistically we’re not permitted to do that,” McGregor said.
In speaking to the proposal, Dr. April Rietdyk, manager of community services for the municipality, said projects such as Indwell’s are needed.
“I’m crossing my fingers we receive $14 million in federal funding,” Rietdyk said. “We need supportive housing.”
Her comments were echoed by Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew.
“These are people. These are tenants. They live in neighbourhoods,” Crew said. “We need this. We need supportive housing. If you can figure out another way to reduce the need for homelessness and homeless people, I’m all in,” Crew added. “No one else has come up with any better solution.
‘We as a council need to move forward or we will be cleaning the bridge again if we don’t,” Crew said in reference to the recent removal of the debris left over from a homelessness encampment under the Third Street Bridge.
Indwell’s Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development, fielded a number of questions about the build from council.
He assured them Indwell operates with “integrity” and will continue to work with, and engage with the community.
“All of Indwell’s projects are partnerships with municipalities,” Cubitt explained. ” When we have problems, we try to fix them. To be successful, we have to work together.”
In response to scaling back the size of the build, Cubbitt said Indwell will examine all angles to see if that’s a possibility, while staying with the parameters of the funding guidelines.
According to the planning report, the Chatham Indwell project is to be developed in two phases. The first would see the empty school revamped for 24 residential units, with the second phase comprised of the new 71-unit three-storey structure.
Based in Hamilton, Indwell was launched in the early 1970s. Their facilities house vulnerable adults in individual apartment units while also supplying onsite social work supports and programs.
Before construction can proceed, council still needs to consider a site plan application on the build.