Tackling affordable housing a top priority, mayor says

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley fields a question during his annual ‘State of the City’ address. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

One of Sarnia’s top priorities this year has to be its dire shortage of affordable housing, says Mayor Mike Bradley.

Low-income residents wait years for subsidized units and rising rents are forcing people into the street, the mayor said at his annual ‘State of the City’ address last week.

“Every community in Canada is grappling with this … In a country this rich, people should have the right to shelter and we are losing that.”

Launching into a new decade at City Hall and his 32nd year as head of council, Bradley told the Seaway Kiwanis Club he’s working with MP Marilyn Gladu, Lambton County, non-profits, and private and public sector officials to find solutions.

At Gladu’s request, a group of community leaders met recently to discuss the lack of affordable housing.

A relatively robust local economy and soaring real estate prices have tightened the rental market, said Bradley. Some rents have raised $500 to $1,000 a month in recent few years.

“That’s where people are getting squeezed,” he said.

Provincial dollars have been scarce since the Kathleen Wynne government pledged $4 million to refurbish Sarnia-Lambton’s subsidized housing stock, The Doug Ford government cancelled that funding, so the county stepped in to make it up.

“(The $4 million) only upgrades what we have. It doesn’t address new affordable housing,” said Bradley. “And the shortage has grown.”

Sarnia is fortunate to have progressive groups like Habitat for Humanity and March of Dimes building affordable units, he added.

“We just need to have a better and more aggressive strategy.”

Some municipal councils in Ontario require developers to include a percentage of affordable units in new housing projects, and Bradley said he is considering support for such a measure.

To cope with the growing number of low-income residents who can’t afford a roof over their head, the city’s homeless shelters are working to expand the number of available beds, especially in winter, he noted.

“That’s basically what’s happening out there and that’s the challenge. Anecdotally, I see more people who need more assistance on the street.”

Here’s what Mayor Bradley had to say on other topics:

CLIMATE AT CITY HALL: “Brand new management team (is) doing a good job. A new council is working well together.  That’s what you want.  The noise is very, very low these days.”

SCITS PROPERTY: “We’re working with Vision Nursing Home to look at the possibilities of what could happen there. That’s a very complex deal.”

BAYSIDE RECONSTRUCTION: “By March, I hope we’ll see a resolution of our 18-month negotiations with Seasons Group, who want to build two retirement towers at the former Bayside Mall, and also the restoration of the county facility there…downtown is a very vibrant place to be and a lot more could happen.”

NEW INDUSTRY:  “We’ve got to be realistic. Fossil fuels have been good to us for a lot of years but the world is changing and changing very quickly. That’s why…we’ve become the biofuel cluster of Canada. But we still need to do more … We need to look at IT (information technology).”

PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY: “It’s never got the respect it deserves. If we were to just shut it down for a week this country would be in chaos because everything we do as Canadians … is still very much premised on what we produce here.”

POPULATION GROWTH:  “We need to attract more people. This is a community of immigrants … after the Second World War the Italian, Dutch and Polish communities came in and helped build this community … We want a 7% growth by 2027, instead of the 2-to-3% we’ve had in past years.”

TRANSPORTATION: “You’re probably aware that we now have bus service (to London) for the next five years, starting in April, which is a big step forward. We need more rail service. Transportation is important for jobs, for students, for medical reasons…”

STALLED DETOX FACILITY:  “It’s a shame … everyone knows it’s needed so I hope we can have that happen this year.”