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County rejects funding for affordable housing project at post office

'The project is by no means scrapped or anything like that. We're still working towards the same goals,' said Raising the Roof official of Peter Street plans
Although the County of Simcoe recently denied Raising the Roof’s funding request for an affordable housing project on 25 Peter St. N., the developer said the project will still be moving forward. The post office will continue to be housed at the site; the housing units will be built above.

An affordable housing project planned for downtown Orillia will no longer be able to offer “deeply affordable” rates after the County of Simcoe council denied a funding request.

The $15 million, 40-unit project is to be constructed above the post office at 25 Peter St. N., and the plan for the development is to provide housing to women, either with children or escaping domestic abuse, and to provide social supports to tenants in-house. Click here to read the original article about the plans for the site.

Developer Raising the Roof sought both city and county funding in recent weeks to bolster its application for federal Rapid Housing Initiative funding.

If successful in securing federal funding, all units in the project would be "deeply affordable", with prices as low as $434 per month. 

However, success in its application relied upon securing both city and county funding, said Adrian Dingle, Raising the Roof’s director of housing development.

While Orillia council tentatively approved $130,000 in funding towards the project on Feb. 13, county council denied a request to provide $200,000 in annual operating funding over 11 years at its meeting on Feb. 14.

In a staff report, county staff expressed concern that the 11-year funding request may make it difficult for the project to maintain the required 20 years of affordability under the Rapid Housing Initiative, and that without the operating funds it could not function as supportive housing.

Members of county council raised concern with what would happen after the 11-year window was up.

Some, however, expressed support for providing the funding.

“I understand that there is a risk involved, but I also think there's a greater risk in not taking this opportunity today to move forward with this,” said deputy warden Jennifer Coughlin.

Staff also pointed to changes with development charges rolled out under Bill 23, which reduced the county’s capital cost funding for affordable housing projects, among other concerns.

Without the federal funding, some units will need to be rented at market rate, with affordable units rented at 80 per cent of market rate, as opposed to the sought-after “deeply affordable” rates. 

Dingle said the county operating funding would have contributed to social supports within the project.

“The funding that we were applying to the county for was operating funding to go specifically towards providing support for the people at the building, so that's things like housing support workers, caseworkers, mental health supports and (more),” he told OrilliaMatters. “Without that funding, we … believe that we would be ineligible to apply for Rapid Housing, or we would have a very weak chance at that receiving funding.”

Raising the Roof is nonetheless required to make 24 units affordable in the project, Dingle explained, and said the organization still plans to move forward.

“The project is by no means scrapped or anything like that. We're still working towards the same goals,” he said. “We will be bringing at least 24 units of affordable (units) to market, but the opportunity that was missed here was the chance to do it quickly, and to provide those very deep level of affordability and supports.”

Dingle estimated the project may be delayed by up to six months without the Rapid Housing Initiative funding.

Raising the Roof is grateful for Orillia’s “terrific” contribution to the project, Dingle said, and is hopeful about working something out with the county moving forward.

“Regardless of the decision that was made, our project represents something that is in line with their mission and what they want to support in their communities,” he said.

“I'm very hopeful that there can be something arranged in the future permitting deeper levels of affordability for the people living in our building.”