It’s a tough rental housing market out there, and students with a fixed income are having a tough time finding accommodations.
This, Laurentian University associate professor Krishna Challagulla said, is why he bought 176 Larch St. in downtown Sudbury in December.
The three-storey building currently houses The Gory Hole (a horror movie-themed retail store) on the main floor. Challagulla is currently having the second floor renovated to accommodate two residential units, and three units created on the third floor.
Currently office space, the residential units will include a total of 10 bedrooms, which he’s going to offer as affordable housing for students.
Just what, exactly, “affordable” means when it comes to rent has yet to be determined, but his goal is to keep prices low, but allow him to remain in the fiscal black so it’s sustainable.
“Seeing all of the housing issues everyone has, I thought maybe I could help,” he said, adding that when he first came to Sudbury in 2001, rentals were affordable, “but things changed quite a bit recently.”
During this week’s planning committee meeting of city council, the city’s elected officials approved $169,857 in Community Improvement Plan grants and loans to help get the housing project off the ground.
The grants and loans are going toward a total submitted work estimate of $580,000, creating a total public to private investment ratio of 1:2.41.
Municipal funding comes in the form of a facade improvement grant, building permit fee rebate, residential incentive program, and a feasibility grant.
Of the $169,857, $22.857 comes in the form of a loan and will need to be paid back.
These funds are “critical” to getting the project going,” Challagulla said, adding that although his goal is to help students, finances must come into play. If not for the municipal grant, he might have had to rethink the project.
“Everything helps,” he said.
In addition to his role as associate professor, Challagulla said he works a great deal with international students, both recruiting, finding them accommodations and making sure they have a positive experience in Sudbury.
Although he doesn’t believe Sudbury has reached a point where students are beginning to turn down educational opportunities due to its housing market, it’s getting less affordable.
It is, however, a tight local housing market, particularly when it comes to affordable housing.
At the latest update a few months ago, the city needed 470 rental units in order to reach five-per-cent vacancy (the rate is currently 1.6 per cent).
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average rent in Greater Sudbury has more than doubled in the last 20 years, from $605 in October 2003 to $1,251 in October 2023.
Larch Street is an ideal location for student housing, Challagulla said, as it’s close to the downtown bus terminal. Plus, he said he’s happy to do his part to help the city’s downtown core.
“I hate to see downtown going from glory times to what it is right now,” he said. “Any businesses coming into Sudbury and changing downtown would be great.”
During this week’s meeting, Ward 4 Coun. Pauline Fortin was the only planning committee member to vote against awarding Community Improvement Plan grants and loans toward the project.
“I am concerned about this program,” she said.
“It’s not about this application in particular, it’s more about the program,” she added, calling to question the concept of subsidizing private developments to begin with.
Fortin was similarly the only member to vote against awarding CIP funding toward the Knox Hall events venue at 73 Larch St. during the previous planning committee meeting earlier this month.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.