Tammy Vandenheuvel’s dream of building a seven-unit housing complex for youth is moving ahead quickly with help from a $980,000 provincial grant.
Agri-Urban Buildings Inc. has been on the job since early December gutting a former day-care centre at 811 London Rd.
“The framing for each apartment unit is going up and new electrical has to go in,” says Vandenheuvel.
The cost has increased since she bought the property to redevelop for youth housing with her husband Gary.
It will take about $1.4 million, more than initially anticipated, because each unit requires its own air exchange system, Vandenheuvel said.
The couple, who own a successful towing business, are footing the bill with help from an Ontario affordable youth housing fund. The fund is providing nearly $1 million to pay off a mortgage over the next 20 years.
It’s a big commitment but Vandenheuvel said she is compelled to create housing for residents aged 16-24 after working as a child and youth worker for 32 years, as well as experiencing homelessness herself as a youth.
“We’re hearing so much about homelessness lately,” she said. “I see people on the street in Sarnia all the time with bags in hand or dragging a suitcase.
“That often means they are couch surfing.”
Vandenheuvel worked at The Hub, a youth drop-in centre operated by Rebound in co-operation with more than 30 local agencies. She continues to serve on The Hub’s board.
The drop-in centre is able to fulfill certain needs such as laundry, food and a shower, but youth there regularly say they need housing, she said.
“They are ready to live on their own but no one wants to rent to youth. I decided if nobody else is going to build transitional housing for young people, then I will.”
Seven units able to accommodate 11 people will be ready for occupancy in early summer, Vandenheuvel said.
Applications will be accepted at The Hub.
Vandenheuvel said she will be “more than a landlord” and hopes to start a mentoring program to help tenants develop life skills.
“When they are ready, they’ll have a reference and a credit rating to live in a place on their own.
“I believe that this is a vulnerable stage in their lives and, if we can help them, it can make a real difference.”
The Vandenheuvels own Preferred Towing, which is featured on The Discovery Channel’s Heavy Rescue 401.
The showing of the season premiere has been used as a local fundraiser for the youth housing project the past couple of years. It sold out in 2017 when $17,000 was raised.
A larger venue has been chosen this year in hopes of raising even more money. The event takes place Jan. 12 at the Dante Club.
Tickets for a pasta dinner, silent auction and the screening are $30 and available by calling 519-344-7277.