The city’s elected officials approved two affordable housing projects in Greater Sudbury during Tuesday’s finance and administration meeting, offering them their near-unanimous support.
This includes proceeding with a 14-unit affordable housing complex at 1310 Sparks St., despite its cost jumping from $5.5 million to approximately $6.3 million.
City staff were also asked to prepare a bylaw to have five single-family dwellings purchased from the city by the not-for-profit Raising The Roof-Chex Toit for continued use as affordable housing to retain their tax-exempt status.
Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland opposed the Sparks Street expenditure increase, and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini abstained from both votes without explanation.
Following the meeting, McCausland clarified to Sudbury.com that the Sparks Street build will be a much-needed addition to the city’s affordable housing stock, which he’s also pleased to see factor heavily into the city’s environmental goals through its energy efficient build.
“My concern is that the price tag isn’t something that I believe is sustainable, and I’d like to see us make sure our investment is leveraging similar investments from the provincial and federal governments,” he said.
Although the federal government pledged $556,400 for the acquisition of the land, he said the ideal formula is an equal parts municipal, federal and provincial government investment.
“This will be a great building, but I believe there’s got to be a model that’s more sustainable and cost-effective.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Vagnini indicated that he “can’t” vote on the Raising the Roof matter. He later clarified that he misspoke and that he should have indicated that he would abstain.
Vagnini did not declare a pecuniary interest in either of these motions so was required to vote on both of them. As such, his abstaining resulted in two votes of “no.”
Sudbury.com reached out to Vagnini for comment but did not receive a response despite repeated attempts.
The Sparks Street development will consist of 14 one-bedroom affordable housing units totalling 13,669 square feet for seniors at the site of the old RCMP detachment.
“We got this project under the federal lands initiative for $25,000, and part of the condition was that we’d build something that is energy efficient and accessible,” city housing operations director Barbara Dubois told city council.
The project has faced cost escalations in recent months, in part as a result of COVID-related fluctuations which are expected to continue. Although the cost estimate has increased from the initial $5.5 million to $6.3 million, an additional $1.1-million for contingencies was also baked into city council’s approval.
A breakdown of the project’s revised costs include:
- Site work enhancements to suit poor soil conditions and on-site stormwater management: $368,000
- Increased material costs for high-performance windows and doors: $236,000
- Updated design to enhance energy performance of the building: $254,000
- Marketplace inflation and escalation to recognize Q2 2022 tender period: $82,000
The build is considered a “passive house,” which means various techniques will be employed to ensure its associated energy costs are as low as possible.
An average building of this size would use 147,000 kilowatt hours of energy in a year, Dubois said, while this passive build will use 19,800.
“Based on today’s energy prices, that means we should be able to heat and cool this building for about $3,100 per year,” she said, which translates to approximately $221 per year per unit.
An average build would cost approximately $25,000 to heat and cool per year, which would be $1,786 per unit.
This lower energy cost, she said, will help ensure the city is able to keep the building affordable for its residents.
The cost overrun will be offset by the recent sale of 18 scattered houses from the city’s affordable housing stock, which netted the city approximately $6.2 million after expenses.
These buildings are being sold as a means of shifting the city’s housing stock toward its current needs, with the city currently requiring more one-bedroom units, such as those being constructed on Sparks Street.
The loss in units through sales will be offset by the Sparks Street development and the transitional housing complex expected to go up on Lorraine Street, which city council unanimously approved funds for during 2022 budget deliberations.
The transitional housing complex has been touted by the city to include 40 units, although the nuances behind the build have yet to be hashed out. The federal funding the city has applied for requires at least 28 units be created, and the Assertive Community Treatment Team of 12 full-time and four part-time staff members described in the city’s initial report on the project are expected to serve between 40 and 60 clients.
Of the housing stock the city is working to divest itself of, Raising the Roof-Chez Toit is currently finalizing agreements to purchase five single-family dwellings at their appraised value.
In a report prepared by Dubois, it’s indicated that the buyer plans on renovating each of these buildings to accommodate a two-bedroom secondary unit in each basement and for both units in each dwelling to be used as affordable housing for 25 years.
Construction will be staggered, and it’s anticipated that each renovation will take six months and that all five buildings will be completed in two years, creating a total of 10 affordable units.
As per city council’s decision on Tuesday, these properties are slated to be tax exempt. Although this decision will need to be ratified by city council as a whole via an associated bylaw, their near-unanimous support on Tuesday points to the likelihood of this happening.
“This was a creative and innovative solution to some of the challenges we’re having with our affordable housing stock not meeting the need,” McCausland said, adding that it’s a needed boost from a local organization that will breathe new life into these aging buildings.
“It’s really exciting to see this coming into fruition.”
The provincial Housing Services Act mandates the city to maintain its city-owned housing stock of 1,848 and an overall subsidized housing stock of approximately 4,000 – a level the city far exceeds with its current stock of 4,625 at latest count a few months ago.
This count includes non-profit and co-operative housing units, private housing and other housing programs.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.