Now under the supervision of MennoHomes, a planned expansion at Sprucelawn Apartments for Seniors in St. Jacobs will enjoy savings of $192,000, as Woolwich council agreed to waive development charges for the project.
The plan is to add 28 units to the existing building, which would essentially double the size of the complex at 33 Front St., which is currently home to 30 units. Construction is expected to cost $6.5 to $7 million.
Given that some of the rents are well below market averages, Sprucelawn qualifies under the township’s policy to support affordable housing by not applying development charges, which are special levies that see the buyers of new homes pay for costs related to growth.
The existing building has 28 one-bedroom units rented at $718 monthly, and two two-bedroom units rented for $887.
In the new building, eight of the 20 one-bedroom units will have rents set at the ODSP shelter allowance of $497, while the other 12 will rent for about $809. The building’s eight two-bedroom units will have market rents of $1,350-$1,450 per month, Dan Driedger, executive director of MennoHomes, told councillors meeting by online videoconference December 14.
Driedger noted MennoHomes last month took on board management of Sprucelawn, with a full amalgamation set for January 31.
“It’s two organization coming together to hopefully achieve what one couldn’t do by itself,” he said, noting the combined footprint of the organizations would be 63 units in Woolwich Township, including The Foundry in Elmira.
Along with the development charge waiver, Driedger suggested the township might look at dropping permitting and building inspection fees, noting Kitchener is looking at doing the same for such projects.
He asked for an exemption from some $39,000 in future fees, noting Sprucelawn has already paid some $26,000 to date.
Director of development services Deanne Friess noted, however, that Woolwich’s waiver of DC charges is much more generous than the exemption of building fees, adding that in the Kitchener example the DC charges are only deferred, not waived.
“We think that the Township of Woolwich approach with the DC exemption of $192,000 is quite significant, and quite a bit more than what the other municipalities are providing,” she said.
Moreover, the township is on the hook for the waived DC fees, having to contribute the $192,000 to the development charge fund over time from other sources.
Coun. Scott McMillan pressed for the township to look at additional exemptions as a way to support affordable housing projects, noting the housing situation has changed since the current policy drafted in 2017.
“I think the housing crisis has gotten worse. Market price for housing has gone up. There’s more people that are homeless. There’s more people struggling with food insecurity and housing insecurity,” he said, calling for a review at a later date, perhaps next spring.
For Coun. Murray Martin, however, such exemptions aren’t the way to go.
“I’m not a big fan about waiving fees. I always believe that everybody should pay their own way,” he said, suggesting McMillan and others could contribute directly to MennoHomes. “Get you chequebook out … and help them fund their project.”