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Next affordable housing project could be on Kathleen Avenue

City park selected for potential build
(County of Lambton)
(County of Lambton)

With a self-imposed deadline of only 18 months, Lambton County council is taking the first step to build new affordable housing as quickly as possible.

A one-acre city park on Kathleen Avenue – which is surrounded by county-owned subsidized housing – has been chosen as the most expedient location for a project that could mean anywhere from 30-50 new units.

At its most recent meeting in Wyoming, county council voted overwhelmingly in support of a staff request to proceed with design, engineering and construction.

It puts the wheels in motion for new housing, but the estimated funding of $10 million - $16.5 million is not yet assembled or approved.

A business case has been submitted by the county for up to $5 million from the 2023-24 Canada Ontario Community Housing Initiative, but it’s not known if it will be successful. The proposal also calls for $4 million to be spent from the county’s affordable housing reserve, the borrowing of another $2.6 million and looking to the feds for the balance.

Staff made the recommendation to focus on the Kathleen Avenue location just two weeks after county council gave the county’s social services department a tiny window of just 18 months to get one affordable housing project built and operational.

It comes in the midst of a housing crisis never before seen in Sarnia-Lambton. Hundreds of men, women and children are waiting years to access local affordable housing units.  Lambton County officials, who are responsible for all social housing in Sarnia-Lambton, say the shortage is in large part due to scant upper tier funding from the provincial and federal governments.

In fact, at the county’s most recent meeting Feb. 21, Lambton’s GM of social services Valerie Colasanti warned council that any hope of meeting council’s 18-month deadline is contingent on funding from the upper tier.

Mayor Mike Bradley noted that the Kathleen Avenue location will add to the concentration of social housing already there and said he has concerns about that.

But he also recognized Kathleen Avenue may offer the best way forward to build new units quickly.

Coun. Brian White said he knows there are residents on Kathleen who don’t want their entire park occupied by housing.

“I want to ensure retaining some of the park space is part of the plan,” he said.  “A lot of community events happen there.  It’s an important part of the neighbourhood.”

Staff’s proposal for Kathleen Avenue involves a two or three storey building with one-bedroom apartments.

At the meeting, Mayor Bradley also commented that he’d like to see another housing project started simultaneously with Kathleen Avenue.

Colasanti replied that her staff has met with Sarnia staff about the city’s donation of the Victoria Street parking lot to the county for construction of an affordable and supportive housing project.

There have been discussions about how much of the downtown parking lot the city will donate, Colasanti said, then repeated that any project moving forward depends on provincial and federal funding support.

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