Indwell supportive housing project receives $9.7-million backing from Council

A supportive housing project, proposed by Indwell Community Homes at the former St. Agnes Catholic School in Chatham, has received support from Chatham-Kent Council.

At their meeting on Monday, March 6, 2023, Council approved a series of recommendations from administration.

Council authorized staff to enter into a memorandum of understand with Indwell Community Homes to collaborate on the submission of necessary applications for 95 supportive affordable housing units at the 55 Croydon Street location and outlining the necessary detailed agreements between the parties.

Council conditionally approved a commitment of up to $9,690,000 towards the project from strategic reserves.

They also directed the director of housing services to submit an application to the rapid housing initiative for the project, which has a deadline of March 15, 2023.

The funding commitment is subject to: one or more further reports from administration outlining recommendations on funding for the project, successful application to the rapid housing initiative and provincial funding sources and the negotiation and approval of necessary detailed agreements between Chatham-Kent and Indwell.

Lastly, Council directed administration to engage in discussions with any Ministry or other funding body that may provide further financial support for construction and operation costs the Project.

In a presentation to Council on Monday, Polly Smith, the director of employment and social services, said there are many benefits to supportive housing.

She said evidence shows that building and investing in supportive housing leads to individual benefits, economic spin off and cost savings to the tax payer, adding that a recent study found that for every $10 invested in supportive housing results in an average of $21.72 in savings related to health care, social supports, housing, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Smith added the Canadian Mental Health Association says that for every $1 invested into housing construction, there is a $1.52 multiplier effect on the local economy.

Smith said staff has identified a growing need for supportive housing since 2018, as they see more people requiring health care related supports than ever before.

She said employment and social services is funded by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for homelessness prevention, but not for supportive housing.

In Chatham-Kent, Smith said about 500 people experienced homelessness in 2021.

Smith said market rents have doubled in the last four years, but incomes have not, the total rental vacancy rate is only 2% and annual household incomes in Chatham-Kent are about 25% lower than the Ontario average.

She said approximately 10,000 residents are surviving on social assistance and at least 12% of Chatham-Kent residents are living on low incomes.

Having worked with Indwell on the project since 2018, Smith said the organization is now offering 95 new units with the build.

The units would be deeply affordable rents, less than 80% of the average market rent, and the build would feature enhanced and light supports.

Smith said the first phase of the project would be completed within 18 months of the start of construction, while the operations would be funded by the upper levels of government.

Smith said the expected outcomes with the project, include:

– Reducing the need for an emergency shelter

– A shorter wait for housing for people who need supports

– Improved tenancies and fewer evictions

– Increase health, wellness, and sense of belonging for those who live there

– Movement from enhanced supports to light supports

– Free up housing subsidies and eviction prevention dollars for others

“This build will not end poverty, nor will it meet all of the health care requirements of the highest need people in the community,” Smith said in her presentation.

“This is one step in the community’s ongoing battle to end homelessness.”

During the debate on Monday, a motion to refer the report back to staff for more information was defeated.

Eventually, Council approved the original staff recommendations included in the report by a vote of 8-6.

Indwell has submitted an application to Chatham-Kent’s planning department, seeking a zoning by-law amendment to permit the supportive housing project at 55 Croydon Street.

The application is anticipated to be on the agenda at the April 24 or May 15, 2023 planning meeting.

At their Monday, December 14, 2020 electronic meeting, Council unanimously voted in favour of entering into a service agreement with Indwell, for one-time funding in the amount of $100,000, towards a local Indwell project manager position to support the implementation and execution of their supportive affordable housing development.

Staff at the time described Indwell as “Ontario’s largest developer of supportive affordable housing.”

At the time, Council approved to continue supporting municipal staff efforts to engage, mobilize and realign local, provincial and federal health and housing related funding opportunities to better address homelessness affordable supportive housing service gaps and to end chronic homelessness.

A staff report from 2020 indicates Indwell is a Christian organization with a mission ‘to create affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.’

At the time, Indwell had housing projects in four Ontario municipalities and had eight new builds in various stages of development, including: London, Waterloo, Peel, Hamilton and Simcoe.

Supporting over 600 people in 570 households, their housing options cater to a mix of incomes, household configurations, abilities, and support stage-of-life needs in a mix of tenure types, staff said in the 2020 report.

Ongoing support services are based on community need assessments, and range from low, moderate to high levels of support services.

“Indwell is working with communities to complete intake and support service prioritization through healthcare and homelessness prevention/housing waitlist referral streams,” a staff report indicates.

“Development costs include a mix of federal, provincial, municipal and local community fundraising funding co-investment components. Indwell is recognized as a health service provider through Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and ongoing support service programming costs are funded primarily by realigning existing provincial healthcare funding streams.”

Staff said in 2020 that Indwell could assist in bridging the gap between homelessness and healthcare funded support services locally, while providing urgently needed affordable housing.

“With effective local project management, advocacy and leveraging of federal, provincial co-investment opportunities, Indwell represents a viable strategic option for increasing long-term affordable supportive housing to Chatham-Kent residents and a cost efficient solution to ending chronic homelessness locally,” the staff report indicates.

Back in June of 2021, the Board of Trustees for the St. Clair Catholic District School Board approved the sale of the former St. Agnes Catholic School.

School board officials said an agreement of purchase and sale between the Board and Indwell Community Homes of Hamilton, Ontario was reached for an agreed upon selling price of $635,000.

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