A small group of Sarnia residents who know a thing or two about housing development, financing and philanthropy is hoping to find someone to donate at least 1.5 acres for a new affordable housing project.
“We are knocking on a lot of doors and hoping someone steps up,” said Michael Kooy, a local investment advisor. He and fellow committee members John DeGroot and Heather Martin belong to the Rotary Club of Sarnia. Together with Brian Mundt of Wellington Ridge Developments, they want to do something about a desperate lack of affordable housing plaguing Sarnia and so many other communities.
It’s not just affordable housing that’s needed, said Mundt. There’s also a critical need for supportive housing that provides services for people who require help for everything from mental health and addiction issues, to learning how to transition off the street.
Seeing the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness in Sarnia-Lambton was one of the reasons the group came together several months ago, said DeGroot.
“Homelessness is very visible now and we really don’t have any supportive housing for the homeless,” Mundt said. “If you’ve been living on the streets, having a roof over your head solves a lot of problems.
“But you also need support to flourish and reintegrate.”
Lambton County provides rent supplements and builds some affordable housing, but the government can’t do it on its own, Kooy said. At last count, Lambton County’s social housing had a 42-month wait list for a one-bedroom apartment and there were 497 people waiting. It’s a 36-month wait list for a two bedroom. There are 65 people on that one.
“And the for-profit sector is not going to build affordable housing, Kooy said. “But we are seeing non-profit groups build affordable housing very successfully in other communities in Ontario.”
He pointed to a project under way to build 40 tiny homes on a vacant brownfield in the heart of St. Thomas. “This is the kind of thing we want to do,” Kooy said.
The group has been in contact with a charitable organization called Indwell that has built several supportive housing communities in southwestern Ontario.
To raise awareness and garner support for their first housing project, the group is working with the Rotary Club of Sarnia to host a screening of the film “Safe,” which showcases Indwell’s work.
Hamilton-based filmmaker James Butler interviews residents, support workers and builder/designers to explore a success story that’s giving people hope.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Valerie Colasanti, general manager of Lambton County’s social services department; Scott Brush, program launch manager for Indwell in Chatham-Kent; Jim Steele, former manager of social housing in Windsor; and Heather Martin representing Wellington Ridge Developments.
Wellington Ridge was formed to build Wellington Flats next to Vision Nursing Home on Wellington Streets. The building opened in 2019 with 19 of its 36 units designated for affordable housing. Wellington Flats filled quickly and has a lengthy waiting list, said Mundt.
“It shows you the need for a lot more affordable housing in our community.”
The group hopes to build more than one affordable and supportive housing project, but first needs land.
“We’re looking for three things,” said DeGroot. “At least 1.5 acres either donated or at a reduced price, financing and community support.”
Ideally, the land will be located in Sarnia close to services, near a bus route and within a kilometre of a grocery store.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: A screening of “Safe,” a film about housing and hope.
WHERE: Sarnia Library Theatre
WHEN: Wednesday, June 7 @ 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.
TICKETS: It’s free but people who can are invited to pay $10 or make a donation to the Rotary Club of Sarnia’s Affordable Housing Fund. Donations over $50 receive a charitable gift receipt.