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Transitional housing project to help address homelessness moves forward

UPDATE JAN 30: Council approved the idea of the transitional housing, the partnership, lease language and memorandum of understanding agreements.
Following emails and two comments at the meeting from nearby residents, there were apologies for lack of transparency in communication about the project.

Staff has been directed to consult consult with impacted landowners and interested persons during the implementation of the transitional housing project to help mitigate concerns.

By Sharon Harrison
JAN. 19: A first of its kind partnership in the County will see the former Maples Retirement Home become a transitional housing project due to an increase in provincial government funding.

Council learned more about the project at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting and unanimous approval moves to council’s Jan. 30 meeting to be ratified.

The motion proposed by the housing department is for funding agreements with the Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS), along with a long-term lease to support a public-private partnership arrangement with the Base31 (PEC Community Partners).

Details about the program and the acquisition of the newly named Leeward House property were presented to council, where a report from the housing department outlined the project, which is intended to address transitional housing and homelessness in Prince Edward County.

The intent is also to address housing access and stabilization services for residents (that will help local residents find and keep housing through a housing registry), as well as tenant education, landlord engagement and eviction prevention supports.

The funds have been made available as a result of the provincial government increasing the funds to PELASS, for the homelessness prevention program, by 80 per cent, with a three-year commitment, to almost $2.5 million per year.

The municipality applied for, and was successful, in securing two streams, one for housing access and stabilization, and one for transitional housing.

“The first stream is for $72,000 approximately to provide services to County resident tenants and property owners with a range of supports to find and keep housing and prevent evictions, and we plan to do this through establishing a housing registry of all available units,” explained Elis Ziegler, affordable housing supervisor with the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation.

Ziegler said it will not only help the residents, but will also give the County greater accuracy and understanding what the rental housing stock is.

“Also, it will encourage landlords to preserve the rental housing that is available, to do tenant education workshops, to help folks find resources, and also to do direct eviction prevention and mediation to help maintain their housing.”

The transitional housing stream is approximately $125,000 and will be used for program funds for Leeward House, for staffing on-site, rental supplements, on-site wrap-around case co-ordination, where the intention is to provide a congregate, therapeutic, rehabilitative setting.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said the project is “solving what is a growing problem in the municipality”, noting it was the first of its kind in the area, and a “new kind of model”.

Ziegler confirmed, other than Kate’s Rest, the closest other facility is in Belleville, with a shelter in Napanee, saying there is “nothing of this kind, designed as it is”.

In the report to council, Ziegler noted the County’s residents’ “acute need for a full range of housing and services”, and referenced a motion passed by council in May 2023 endorsing the County Housing Plan “for the purpose of applying for provincial and federal funding, as well as providing the catalyst for improved housing opportunities for all County residents”.

The municipality will enter into a lease agreement with Base 31 for a property located at 1133 County Road 5 in Picton, in Sophiasburgh ward, for the operation of a transitional housing facility.

The Base31 partners purchased the property specifically for the purpose of creating transitional housing, and the municipality will manage the property under lease with the Base31 Partnership.

“I am excited about this, and we took it to the partnership looking for a backer to take the building portion of this and was delighted that they were such an eager and willing partner to move forward,” said CAO Marcia Wallace.

The property, re-named Leeward House, is currently the Maples Retirement Residence (The Maples), and was on the market for a time last year, where the nine-bedroom home with a near million dollar price tag failed to secure a buyer.

“The transitional housing facility has been named “Leeward House” to reflect both the sheltering and protection aspects for a person experiencing homelessness, and in recognition of the natural forces of wind and water so prevalent for County residents,” Ziegler said.

Councillor Bill Roberts asked if Kate’s Rest, an existing residential homelessness facility in the County, which is already up and running, would receive any support, as it could do with the help. Wallace clarified that Kate’s Rest did apply to PELASS for funding, but noted that the committee did not support it.

“Based on our County housing plan, we know the need exceeds what is out there in other locations,” said Wallace. “This partnership is a unique opportunity; the capital comes from somewhere else and ultimately this is not tax dollars, this is coming from increased provincial funding for homelessness.”

Councillor Kate MacNaughton described the project as an “extraordinary partnership”.

“And may this also lay the groundwork for more when we see opportunities come up to create partnerships in the community,” MacNaughton said. “This is completely amazing, what a great contribution to the fabric of this community.”

Wallace spoke to the uniqueness of a small municipality’s experience with homelessness, and “more visible homelessness than we might have seen in recent years”, where she said in a lot of communities, the shelter is the first thing to be built.

“What we are trying to do here is take a housing-first model, and so what’s unique is the municipality taking steps; it’s not a not-for-profit taking initiative like might be in the case of Kate’s Rest, but the municipality contributing a positive solution,” explained Wallace.

She went on to say the initiative started when the Maples retirement home went up for sale, explaining it was already on the market, with the remaining tenants, who were very few, knew it was going to be sold and maybe re-purposed.

“We really saw it as an opportunity not to lose a housing asset that could be re-purposed into something else,” she said. “I really think this is taking the best of several examples and trying to learn from those struggling with housing and homelessness issues in communities where it has been more visible for longer, and really taking some bold action.”

Councillor Janice Maynard said she had hoped to see a full building inspection in the report given the building’s age, and asked if the County had received a full building inspection, where Ziegler noted that the purchaser (Base31) had an inspection of the building done.

“There wasn’t much in the way of deficiencies, but in any case, those would be the landlord’s (owner’s) responsibility rather than the municipality,” said Ziegler. “The municipality’s role would be on-going maintenance and operation of Leeward House itself.”

Answering another question from Maynard, Ziegler confirmed the property does not require a re-zoning (currently zoned RR2-28), where she confirmed the zoning was in compliance, and as well, a change of use permit was not required.

Councillor Sam Branderhorst expressed how exciting it was to have three years of dedicated funding for the project.

She also enquired about public transportation, asking if a route was being added to give the residents the best support system, where Ziegler confirmed providing transit was top of the list, and they were in discussions with County Transit for a twice-weekly route diversion, although she also noted some residents may have their own transportation.

“It is really happening, and that sometimes, that’s the win you need in a day,” added Branderhorst.

“The facility is currently at 50 percent capacity since the owners listed it for sale,” noted the report. “The five current tenants will be supported by County staff and the owners to complete their move to alternate housing consistent with the Residential Tenancies Act.”

Ziegler noted how two or three already had plans to move closer to family, so only one or two need to find alternate housing. While 120-days notice is required to be given by the home’s owners for the existing residents under the Residential Tenancies Act (once the decision is ratified by council on Jan. 30), Ziegler expects the changeover to occur May 1 latest, and possibly as early as Mar. 1 or Apr. 1.

Ziegler noted that while real estate market has dropped by more than half from what it was in the second quarter of 2023, the rental housing continues to be fairly high, and out of the reach for most residents.

Ziegler noted Leeward House is intended for single people, older adults and seniors who form a big chunk of the homelessness population, but is open to all kinds of people.

“Leeward House will be open to all County residents experiencing homelessness, for a minimum three months, and potentially beyond 12 months.“
According to the report, it is anticipated there will be a staff complement of one full-time staff person (funded by the homelessness prevention program), and an on-site, live-in caretaker who, in exchange for accommodations, will provide basic maintenance tasks around the property.

The nine-bedroom home has office space and common rooms, and with 3.45 acres has plenty of outdoor space for activities.

“This is the best kind of P3 (public-private partnership), and if we can do this by example, maybe we can look at alternate models housing types,” added Ziegler.

All relevant bylaws and lease agreements are intended to be ratified at the Jan. 30 council meeting.

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  1. Paul D Cole says:

    Social Housing responsibilities were downloaded to the Municipalities in 2010 the Housing Services Act of 2011 outlines those responsibilities.

  2. Fred says:

    Understanding the need Country wide not just PEC, but it was never Municipal Gov’ts role to provide affordable housing. Tax dollars are stretched.

  3. Paul D Cole says:

    Kate’s Rest got a letter of recommendation while Base31’s gets funding, funny how these things work. However this is great news and hopefully the Base31 initiative gets pushed forward as quickly as possible, as we know not one single affordable housing unit has been created in The County yet…

  4. SM says:

    The Base 31 partners did not have to purchase this property but did so for the specific purpose of providing the kind of housing mentioned in this article. In my opinion this is an example of their commitment to the community and they are to be commended.

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