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Apartment fire stokes 'truly affordable housing' project

Affordable housing project taking shape on Bradford Community Church property on 9th Line

What started off as a temporary living space for displaced residents of an apartment fire in Bradford a year-and-a-half ago has turned into a community-wide affordable housing project, spearheaded by the WOW Living charity.

Bradford Community Church, located on 9th Line in rural Bradford, temporarily housed displaced residents of 114 Holland St. W. following the March 2021 fire in fifth-wheel trailers. As time went on, though, and permanent housing had not been secured, thoughts of winterizing trailers on the property began to take shape.

WOW Living is now looking to place five winterized trailers on the church property to act as affordable housing units for community members living below the poverty line. Associated costs for the entire project are estimated at $500,000 ($250,000 for five trailers and $250,000 for needed infrastructure).

WOW Living’s executive director, Jodi Greenstreet, was in front of council at a recent public meeting to request a temporary zoning-bylaw amendment to allow for the project to move forward. The church property is currently zoned for institutional use. While that zoning is broad, it does not allow for temporary rental units to be placed on site.

For housing to be "truly affordable," Greenstreet told councillors, rent must be within the shelter portion of someone’s Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program, roughly $400 to $500 for a single person or $800 for a couple, plus utilities.

“We’re committed people will be able to live in these without needing to depend on a subsidy,” said Greenstreet. “That’s why we’re calling it ‘truly affordable housing’ because, in our minds, it’s kind of simple that if your shelter portion doesn’t match up with your rent, it’s not actually affordable unless you have someone else (like the county) to sustain.”

“One of the beautiful parts about this project is that it is part of the church’s mandate is to care for people in poverty ... and that’s why it makes so much sense to put these on their property,” she added.

Here in Barrie, the New Foundations initiative offers select property owners the chance to apply for financial support to do an affordable housing feasibility study. The studies are primarily for properties zoned institutional, as well as for certain places of worship outside of institutional zones. Many of these sites are large and have the space to build affordable townhomes or small- or mid-sized apartments in conjunction with the existing permitted use. Council has decided the city will fund as many as 10 of these studies, each worth about $20,000, to provide a vision to build affordable housing on a property and outline practical steps.

The biggest expense for the Bradford project is having a 300-foot well installed on site, at $40,000. Last week, the organization received an anonymous donation of $10,000 to put toward it, for which Greenstreet is grateful, in addition to the funds already raised for the project by various donors and businesses.

“We are sitting at about $33,000,” said Greenstreet, which she called "unbelievable."

Greenstreet is hopeful the bylaw will be amended as work on the trailers continues into summer, with resources and materials being donated by local businesses and volunteers to turn the trailers into homes.

The trailers already have tenants lined up to move in, pending town approval.

“This project was created; it wasn’t faceless. We created this with people in mind, with people who have been part of our community,” said Greenstreet, adding in addition to being vetted by the organization, the potential tenants have already built up ‘trust equity.’

“They are people that have banked a lot of trust equity with the organization,” she said. “This is second- or third-stage housing, so there’s stability.”

BradfordToday had a chance to visit the site last week and speak with some of the current and potential tenants to get their feedback on the project.

Pam, who did not want to provide a last name, is a Bradford resident who will potentially be moving into one of the trailers. She currently lives in a basement apartment in town and temporarily lived in one of the temporary trailers last summer. Prior to that, she was homeless, living in the bushes of rural Bradford.

The high cost of rent was too much to bear on her own after her son moved out of their apartment, which left her with nowhere to go.

“The rent was $1,100 and here I am living off $1,197 (per month), plus hydro. So, you figure, what’s left for food? Not much,” she told BradfordToday. “So, when he moved out, I had to leave. I couldn’t afford it anymore.”

Pam has lived in Bradford on and off for 30 years. Twenty-two years ago, she met Greenstreet, who has been a constant support for her, assisting her with housing applications.

She is excited about the possibility of moving to one of the new trailers, which include a bedroom, washroom, kitchen and living area.

Sheila Costello has been living in one of the trailers with her husband, Donny, since the fire. They met Greenstreet shortly after the fire, while assisting displaced residents with finding temporary housing, and have since become close.

The couple lost almost everything they had in the fire, and what they were able to salvage reeked of smoke.

“We had to start all over again,” Sheila said. “Being married 42 years, you got a lot of stuff.”

The two live in the one winterized trailer on site and hope to transfer to a new, larger trailer once it is fully winterized and the zoning bylaw is amended.

“I love it, especially being on church property, being so close to God,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Volunteers have stepped up to help get the project off the ground. On the day BradfordToday was on site, youth from the church’s Summer of Service program were on hand, stripping the trailers and getting them ready for renovation.

A contractor and a plumber from Bradford Plumbing have also been donating their services to help move the project along. Home Hardware in Cookstown has already donated 90 per cent of the materials for one of the trailers and is working to supply even more for the other. Bradford’s Water Depot is donating its time, currently working on a water-treatment plan for the project, and Centennial Windows and Doors has provided all the windows and doors for the trailers.

“These volunteers are unbelievable,” said Greenstreet.

Council’s decision on the project will come following a staff report, to be delivered at a future meeting, but in the meantime, Greenstreet and the team of volunteers will continue to work around the clock to get the trailers ready for the potential tenants.

“We’re just going to keep going,” she said. “We are praying our first residents would potentially be in my Christmas.”

— With files from Patrick Bales

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Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
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