Minister lauds Indwell social housing project

Dignitaries welcome $3.1M investment in Simcoe

Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steven Clark paid a site visit to the Indwell supportive housing project in downtown Simcoe Tuesday afternoon. – Monte Sonnenberg

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The Ford government followed up its commitment last year to support a critical social housing project in downtown Simcoe with a site visit Tuesday by Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs.

Steven Clark and other local dignitaries gathered at the site of the former Norfolk Inn on Norfolk Street South to sing the praises of the improvements that already have been made now that the rundown hotel has been gutted to the I-beams.

“As we gradually and safely re-open the province, we need a strong community housing system that supports our most vulnerable and meets local needs,” Clark said. “Projects like the renovated Norfolk Inn build on our government’s work to ensure that everyone can find safe, affordable housing across Ontario.”

When finished, the 32-unit supportive housing complex will be managed by Indwell of Hamilton, a social housing provider that oversaw the redevelopment of Hambleton Hall on John Street in Simcoe several years ago. Of these units, seven will be handicapped-accessible. Commercial space will be leased at ground level.

Indwell project manager Leah Logan told the crowd gathered on Sydenham Street that the Inn property was long overdue for a makeover.

She recalled taking a tour of the property while it continued to provide inexpensive transient housing two years ago. A unit with water flowing from under the door caught her attention. What she found inside was sad and disturbing.

“The conditions were miserable,” Logan said. “The apartment was a mess. There was mould, garbage everywhere and rodents – lots and lots of rodents.”

Logan said they found the tenant hiding under a blanket. As it happened, the tenant had recently aged out of the foster-care system and had basically been thrown into the street. Logan said Indwell found supportive housing for him. Today, his situation is much improved.

Local MPP Toby Barrett had the honour of disclosing the name of the housing complex – the Dogwood Suites.

“It’s named after our county’s official tree – the beautiful dogwood flower,” Barrett said. “A sincere congratulations to everyone involved in this renovation.”

After a contentious debate last year, Norfolk County committed $5 million over 20 years to the $8-million renovation. Norfolk council agreed to this arrangement after Indwell said federal-provincial funding was contingent on municipal support. A council majority was sufficiently worried that the Norfolk Inn would revert to a blighted drag on the downtown if the county didn’t step up.

The $3.1 million announced Tuesday takes some of the pressure off the municipal treasury. Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp recalled speaking to Clark during a municipal conference in Toronto last year about the burden the municipality assumed.

“Minister Clark – thank you for hearing our concerns,” the mayor said. “And, more importantly, thank you for responding. Your government’s most generous contribution will not only provide relief to the Norfolk County taxpayer in years ahead, it will give us additional flexibility to seek out other housing so desperately needed in Norfolk County.

“I look forward to watching Indwell continue to do its life-changing work in our community.”

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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