Luke Hendry Published on: February 28, 2018

At a time when people and agencies are on a daily quest for affordable and supportive housing spaces, several projects are being viewed as having potential to help and possibly serve as models for more.

The Grace Inn shelter, which is planned to transform the city’s former Irish Hall at 315 Church St., could be the first to open. It’s to be a 21-bed emergency shelter for adults.

“We should be ready to open in August,” said shelter spokesman Jodie Jenkins. Demolition permits could be obtained this month and building permits in April, he said.

Jenkins also said, however, that’s all based upon the architect’s timeline and the dates are subject to change.

“We should be ready to open in August.”

He said the board had been waiting for the Ministry of Environment to post paperwork on its website so that the city could issue permits.

“Thankfully they expedited our record of site condition,” he said.

“There were no environmental issues.”

Jenkins said the total project cost is estimated to be $550,000. The board may have to raise $330,000 to $360,000, but “that’s based on nobody donating anything” and some contractors have already offered in-kind donations, he said.

“The opening of Grace Inn would really be helpful,” said Hastings County’s Erin Rivers, the director of community and human services. She and her staff are among those now trying to help residents of a Belleville apartment building find new shelter because the building is closing.

“For situations like this there is a gap for emergency housing and they (Grace Inn) would help fill that gap,” Rivers said.

The county’s Home for Good program, funded largely by the province, has brought together area social service providers to support tenants in a 40-bed building to be built this year on Sidney Street north of College Street West.

Rivers said the current projected opening is in April 2019.

Belleville’s All-Together Housing non-profit housing agency, meanwhile, is on a roll. It was founded in 2007 by the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre, the Hastings Housing Resource Centre, Three Oaks women’s shelter and what was then the United Way of Quinte.

It owns Tom’s Place in Belleville for senior men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It also has a five-bedroom home on Victoria Avenue for people with complex health issues.

All-Together Housing is now leading the implementation of a supported-housing model for two buildings being built on Sidney Street. The model is similar to that of Toronto’s St. Clare’s charity. Most tenants of St. Clare’s pay rent at rates geared to their incomes, but they live side-by-side with others paying market rent.

The charity’s president, Bob Cottrell, said MAPS Development Corp. owns the property. The first of two 26-unit buildings is now being built.

“Of those 52, 34 will be affordable units,” Cottrell said.

“It’s not social housing.”

Tenants of the affordable units will pay, on average, 80 per cent of market rent, he said.

Mixing market-rate and affordable apartments is both a more sustainable way of offering affordable housing and “creates, in our sense, a more inclusive community,” said Cottrell.

He said his group is also leading the effort to obtain more funding and members hope some of their partner agencies – the groups supporting some of the future tenants – may contribute funds.

The board’s now trying to find funding to hire a partnership co-ordinator to work with the landlord, tenants and support agencies.

As the lead agency, All-Together Housing will assign 10 units to be filled by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Four other agencies will each be allowed to refer clients to fill five units and four will be open to other referrals, Cottrell said.

Willing landlords are critical in creating more affordable spaces, he said.

Central to All-Together Housing’s work is developer Phil Spry, president of MAPS and also in charge of Springgale Development Corp., which has property in Belleville.

“We are certainly exploring the benefits of this partnership between a private not-for-profit and a private for-profit developer,” Cottrell said.

“He’s got the experience; we have access to funding dollars.”

Spry and All-Together Housing are working on building a new structure on Great St. James Street south of Station Street. The project has received a $50,000 seed grant from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., a Crown corporation.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to get municipalities to provide incentives for the development of affordable housing … You can’t build without those,” said Cottrell. The Canadian government has promised $10 billion in funding over 10 years.

Waiving municipal development charges is “a big-ticket item” that can help, he said, as is the reduction of or exemption from property taxes, such as charging single-residential rates instead of multi-residential ones. Easements and allowing leeway on parking requirements are also helpful.

“We don’t have anything specific to affordable housing,” said Belleville’s manager of policy planning, Art MacKay.

“There are reductions in development charges in the downtown core, but any type of residential development is eligible.”

He said the Crown corporation’s programs may provide further help.

Cottrell said the Sidney Street project’s first building could open in June. Work on the second has just begun and it’s too early to predict an opening date, he said.

The Hastings Housing Resource Centre’s housing coordinator, Reta Sheppard, said all of the above efforts are encouraging but much more affordable housing is needed.

“It’s not enough – it never is – but it’s a start,” she said.