Former St. Agnes Catholic School. (Photo courtesy of the SCCDSB).Former St. Agnes Catholic School. (Photo courtesy of the SCCDSB).

Council narrowly approves Indwell supportive housing project

A multi-million dollar reconstruction project that could lead to the creation of 95 supportive affordable housing units is moving ahead with municipal support in Chatham-Kent.

After a motion to defer the report was defeated, councillors voted 8-6 in favour of entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell for affordable housing units at the former St. Agnes school. That approval also included a conditional $9.69 million commitment from the municipality toward the project.

The plan is for 95 units but Graham Cubitt, Indwell’s director of projects and development, said it is still possible to “recalibrate” the project.

"We know that there is a large need for long-term, permanent affordability with supports available whether people are aging or are stable with chronic-mental health issues," said Cubitt.

In addition to the $9.69 million commitment from the municipality, council also gave the green light to submit an application to the federal Rapid Housing Initiative for the project by March 15.

"Supportive housing has the biggest payoff," said Polly Smith, who is the director of employment and social services for Chatham-Kent. "Housing itself has a payoff to the community and it creates a lot of savings."

Smith has noted in the past, that approximately 10,000 residents in Chatham-Kent are surviving on social assistance. She said the Indwell project will reduce the need for emergency shelter and will result in a shorter wait for supportive housing.

While some council members supported the project, others did not.

Councillors Amy Finn, Anthony Ceccacci, Michael Bondy, Trevor Thompson, Steve Pinsonneault, and Rhonda Jubenville voted against the motion to approve the nearly $10 million funding request from Indwell.

"This is a ridiculous amount of money in my opinion to spend on an asset we're not going to have any ownership in," said Councillor Pinnsoneault. "I think this is going way over and above what we need to do. I can't support it, it's too much money."

About 500 people experienced homelessness across Chatham-Kent in 2021 and at least three people access emergency housing each week for the first time, according to the Municipality.

The funding approval is conditional on one or more further reports from municipal staff outlining recommendations on project funding, a successful application to the Rapid Housing Initiative and provincial funding sources, as well as negotiation of detailed agreements between Chatham-Kent and Indwell.

If all goes well with the application, construction could begin as soon as this summer or fall.

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