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Sarnia’s housing crisis: Affordable tiny townhouses proposed by Habitat

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Cathy Dobson

The city’s first tiny townhouses – built small to be affordable – will be constructed by Habitat for Humanity Sarnia-Lambton pending city council approval.

David Waters

Four or five townhouses, each measuring 350 square feet (32.5 square metres) are proposed for a vacant lot on Christina Street South, directly across from Rainbow Park, says Habitat CEO Dave Waters.

Habitat for Humanity bought the lot several years ago and submitted a plan to city hall earlier this year intended to help solve Sarnia’s serious lack of affordable housing.

If the project moves ahead as planned, each townhouse unit will be built with 500 hours of sweat equity from each of the new homeowners who will pay approximately $750 a month, said Waters.

“If we can make it work once, we’ll do it again,” he said. “I think our city needs this – and more of it.”

A tiny townhouse is an open-concept, one-storey home with one bedroom. It comes fully furnished with a murphy bed in the living room and a small porch in front. The 350 square feet of living space compares to about 1,200 square feet for a “normal-sized” townhouse, Waters said.

City staff is receptive to the idea, however, an amendment to the Official Plan and a change in zoning is required from council.

Waters said his hope is that the project will go before city council for approval in the next three months and construction can begin in May 2024.

The Habitat proposal comes at a time when wait lists for subsidized housing have never been longer and many people are scrambling to afford a home, he said.

Habitat for Humanity Sarnia-Lambton receives eight applications a month for new homes and another 40 inquiries. “It’s a lot,” said Waters. “If you are a single person making minimum wage, you can’t afford the $1,600 or more it costs for rent in Sarnia.”

The concept of tiny homes and tiny townhouses is becoming increasingly popular as society realizes they are a viable and more affordable alternative, Waters said.

“In this economy, people are more willing to look at this approach. They are embracing minimalism more than ever.”

Tiny homes offer the amenities of larger homes at a fraction of the cost.

This particular Habitat project is expected to receive a financial boost from a bequest left to the Inn of the Good Shepherd and earmarked for affordable housing.

The anonymous donor gave the unusually large amount of $500,000, says the Inn’s executive director Myles Vanni.

The Inn’s executive director Myles Vanni. (Cathy Dobson photo)

An undetermined portion will go to the Habitat tiny townhouses and the balance will help finance another affordable housing project in the works, said Vanni.

The Inn of the Good Shepherd is working with the shuttered Laurel Lea-St. Matthews Presbyterian Church at the corner of Exmouth and Melrose streets to build a three-storey apartment building.

The former church was most recently used last winter as a temporary overflow shelter for the homeless. Now Vanni is optimistic the property can be used to help solve Sarnia’s affordable housing dilemma.

Preliminary plans propose 15 or 16 apartment units with rents set at $800 or $900 a month.

“Our hope is that we will break ground next year but rezoning is required first,” said Vanni.


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