A long-talked-about 40-unit transitional housing complex is anticipated to open on Lorraine Street in New Sudbury by the end of November.
Its impending occupancy follows a number of notable hurdles, including a rushed site selection by city council, neighbourhood opposition, pandemic-related construction delays and the province declining to fund its medical staff, despite the expense being under their jurisdiction.
But what, exactly is this project, why do neighbours oppose it and what is the city doing to address their concerns?
The 40-unit complex is currently being built in segments at an Flex Modular facility in Dundalk, a village in southern Ontario. After its modules are completed this summer, it’s expected to take two to three weeks to assemble them together like puzzle pieces on a vacant city-owned lot on Lorraine Street. Finishing work will follow, with occupancy anticipated by November.
A modular build was selected because it’s quicker than traditional builds, city Housing Services manager Cindi Briscoe told Sudbury.com, noting the $7.4-million grant from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation toward the $12-million project stipulated it must be operational quickly.
A traditional build would have taken approximately three years.
The modular build “will come in under that (timeframe), and it should have been shorter but because of COVID and restrictions with supply-chain shortages and things like that, it has taken us longer than we anticipated,” Briscoe said, noting this is the city’s first modular build. A 14-unit affordable seniors housing building on Sparks Street will be the city’s second.
What’s it going to look like?
The vacant lot at 1179 Lorraine Street in New Sudbury will be developed to include the 40-unit, four-storey residential building at its east site, with a buffer of trees between it and existing residences to the east, according to the city’s conceptual drawings and tender documents.
A parking lot with 24 spaces will be at its southwest, while the northwest will be green space.
Each of the building’s 40 units will be 400 square feet in size, including a living area, separate bedroom and a washroom.
A common area will be included on the ground floor for programming, including an open kitchen attached to a multipurpose room and common washrooms.
There will also be a security office with space for CCTV monitoring equipment, a property management office and two units for onsite supportive services.
Mockups of the building's design were included in last year’s public consultation, which followed Nomodic Modular Structures Inc. being awarded the project’s tender. Their head office is in Calgary, and their Ontario operations are based in Burlington.
In the tender documents, it’s stipulated that all outdoor spaces and entranceways need to be minimized from public view and that the building “is truly integrated into the community and minimizes impact on neighbouring properties.”
What’s going to happen there?
The building’s 40 residents will be people considered chronically homeless, and will include referrals and people on the city’s by-name list (those experiencing homelessness).
The city’s by-name list classified 178 people as actively homeless as of October 2022, including 13 staying in encampments, 72 “unsheltered,” 51 in shelter and 42 “unknown.”
“Individuals who are participants want to be there,” Briscoe said of the transitional housing complex’s residents. “We’re not forcing them to be there, it’s their choice to go.”
Prospective residents will undergo an initial assessment to gauge their interest and willingness to participate in the program, and will continue being assessed by staff once they’re in.
The transitional housing complex is mandated with helping the chronically homeless find and maintain permanent community housing, and includes various supportive services that will help them achieve this goal.
Health Sciences North partnered with the city to hire an Assertive Community Treatment Team to provide support for residents.
“The goal is to help people manage their illness, reduce symptoms, maintain stable housing, increase participation in society and work towards recovery goals for people with persistent and complex needs,” according to a city report.
The team includes physicians, nurses, social workers and substance use support workers who will “work side by side with residents providing ongoing support to improve wellness, build community connections and advance permanent housing goals.”
A smaller version of the team started work at a temporary pilot site at the start of 2022, and has been operating a 13-unit residential site 16 hours per day, seven days a week. By the end of October, they’d housed 23 people on the city’s by-name list.
There will be a “24-hour presence in the building,” Briscoe said, with the Assertive Community Treatment Team on site 16 hours per day and security overseeing the property the other eight.
Why does the neighbourhood oppose it?
The city has faced pushback from area residents, with more than 300 people signing a petition opposing a transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street.
More than 50 Lorraine Street-area residents gathered to express their opposition during an October 2021 community meeting on-site with then-Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc.
In addition to expressing frustration that city council would select the Lorraine Street location prior to public consultation, their prevailing message was that downtown would be a better location for the project because there are more services in the area. Some residents expressed concerns about the facility bringing addictions-related issues to their neighbourhood.
Since that time, the city sought public feedback, held a virtual public information session and an in-person site design engagement session.
In answers to questions posted online, the city cited a study of two Toronto supportive housing buildings for people with mental illness, many of whom were previously homeless, which found supportive housing did not negatively impact property value or increase crime.
Instead, property values increased and crime decreased during the study period, and “clients also contributed positively to their neighbourhoods through modest support for local business and contributions to neighbourhood actions and vibrancy.”
The city also cited a New York City study, which focused on 7,500 units of supportive housing and yielded similar results.
One of the leading figures behind the 2021 petition, Maria Biacussi, told Sudbury.com recently that her initial concerns stand.
“They painted a beautiful rosy picture of how it’s going to improve the neighbourhood, improve the value of our homes and all that kind of rhetoric,” she said, adding that her concerns are the same as they were before.
“Our concern has always been our safety and well-being,” she said, suggesting the building might bring a criminal element to the neighbourhood and that the mental health of the building’s residents might make them unpredictable.
Biacussi has lived in the neighbourhood since the ’60s, when it abutted farm land.
“It’s such a quiet, residential area,” she said, adding that many people in the neighbourhood are long-time residents who care about its future.
“Not against” the transitional housing complex, Biacussi said that the neighbourhood isn’t the place to put it — theirs, she clarified, or “any neighbourhood.”
What’s next for the transitional housing complex?
The transitional housing complex has been cleared to proceed, with a unanimous city council approving the project during 2022 budget deliberations and a decisive 9-2 vote in August 2022 approving its final budget of $14.4 million.
The final figure includes $2.4 million for HST and a contingency.
A site plan application came to the city last week, and the proponent still needs to go through the building permit application process, but Briscoe said it will not need to return to city council.
During last year’s civic election, both candidates vying for the affected ward (then-Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan and his opponent Mike Parent) said they would join the neighbourhood in opposing a transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street.
Since getting elected on Oct. 24, Parent said that he has determined there’s no appetite around council chambers to revisit the decision.
Instead, he plans on introducing a motion within the next month or so asking city administrators to dig deeper into residents’ concerns.
The motion, he said, will make sure the city delivers “on all commitments to ensure the community is safe and secure and that the transitional housing will not have any negative impact on that.”
Parent is also hosting a town hall meeting with Mayor Paul Lefebve on April 12 at 6:30 p.m. at École secondaire Macdonald-Cartier, at which he anticipates the transitional housing complex will be addressed.
“Some (area residents) have lived there all of their lives and they just want to feel safe and secure; I get it,” he said. “If we’re successful, it should be a safer place to live before transitional housing was built there.”
What about the provincial funding question?
After receiving $7.4 million from the federal government for the building’s capital expense, the provincial government has yet to come on board with funding for its operational costs.
This, despite medical staff, such as the Assertive Community Treatment Team slated to work at the complex, falling under provincial jurisdiction.
The city’s latest estimate for the transitional housing complex’s total operating cost is $1.69 million, which includes $1.2 million for the team, and other operational costs of $489,000.
Offset by projected revenues of $950,000, a total net levy impact of $739,000 is currently baked into the city’s proposed 2023 budget.
Municipal funding has always been intended as a temporary means of filling a gap left by the province, and advocacy for operational dollars from Queen’s Park is expected to continue.
During last year’s provincial election, the Green, NDP and Liberal candidates pledged financial support for both the transitional housing complex and the city’s supervised consumption site if elected, but Sudbury’s Progressive Conservative candidate remained silent.
The governing party has remained silent, and have yet to commit operational funding toward either project.
Local NDP MPPs Jamie West (Sudbury) and France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) have continued to pledge their advocacy, while Mayor Paul Lefebvre said he will work to secure funding for the transitional housing complex’s staff, which he described as a “top priority.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.