Possible affordable housing project in CK comes at vital time

© Can Stock Photo / inxti

The municipality is making strides towards bringing some more affordable housing to Chatham-Kent.

On Monday night, council approved that the Employment and Social Services department enter into an agreement for one-time funding of $100,000 towards a local Indwell project manager position.

The purpose of the project manager is to support the implementation and execution of an Indwell supportive affordable housing development.

Indwell describes itself as Ontario’s largest developer of supportive housing, with a mission “to create affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.” The organization currently has housing projects in four Ontario municipalities and has eight new builds in various stages of development. Indwell’s housing options cater to a mix of incomes, household configurations, abilities and support stage-of-life needs in a mix of tenure types. It is also recognized as a health service provider through Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

“Ontario Disability Support Program would be a typical income for many of our tenants or maybe a retirement pension,” explained Director of Projects and Development Graham Cubitt. “We know we can’t do too much as an organization to change that but we can change what it costs for housing. That’s our basic model, how far can we help tenants stretch their income or expand their ability to live well by keeping their rent in check.”

The Indwell development is being done in partnership with Neighbourlink, a registered charity made up of citizens from a network of churches in Chatham-Kent.

In early 2020, Neighbourlink formed a working group to explore and develop affordable supportive housing in Chatham-Kent.

After learning about and touring Indwell supportive housing facilities in other communities, Neighbourlink recently committed to a Memorandum of Understanding with Indwell to lead local efforts to establish a multi-phase supportive housing development in Chatham-Kent. The memorandum includes a commitment to pursue the creation of 150 affordable supportive housing units.

The agreement amount of $100,000 will be funded through Employment and Social Services Social Assistance Restructuring, which is typically used for community events and recreation programming for low-income families. However, these needs have significantly decreased due to COVID-19.

The approval of an Indwell project manager came on the same night that council received the 2019 yearly progress report as part of Chatham-Kent’s first Housing and Homelessness Community Plan

The report details that the need for affordable housing has increased rapidly across Chatham-Kent as well as across Canada. Affordable housing is defined as costing 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income.

“Performance indicators and program outcomes demonstrate a growing affordable housing need, increased shelter insecurity and homelessness within Chatham-Kent,” read the report. “Rent-geared-to-income waitlists continue to be a concern, as escalating housing costs and declining vacancy rates continue to make affordable housing difficult to find and maintain for many Chatham-Kent residents.”

However, from late 2016 until the end of 2019, the average sale price of homes increased by 54 per cent in Chatham-Kent. During that same time frame, around 29 per cent of home sales were to buyers outside of Chatham-Kent and, according to the report, the overall number of rental units available in Chatham-Kent has been on a decline since 2016.

“As market demand increased through non-resident interest, the price of homes increased dramatically making homeownership less accessible for households living in market rental units. From 2016-2019 new home development remained stable but almost no new market rental housing was developed.”

In 2019, 305 individuals in Chatham-Kent experienced homelessness, 56 per cent of which were homeless for more than six months. Sixty-five per cent of homeless individuals in Chatham-Kent in 2019 were adults, 33 per cent were aged 16-25 and two per cent were seniors.

The number of people dealing with homeless in Chatham-Kent has seen a big rise as a result of COVID-19 with the municipality experiencing an 88 per cent increase in homelessness since the start of the pandemic.

“A primary gap identified in Chatham-Kent’s Community Housing and Homelessness Plan is a lack of supportive housing, health care interventions, and long-term care support services for mid to high need individuals,” read the report. “Indwell could assist in bridging the gap between homelessness and healthcare funded support services locally while providing urgently needed affordable housing.”