Sudbury

Neighbours tell Sudbury that Lorraine Street isn't right for transitional housing

Several people in Ward 5 of Greater Sudbury shared concerns about a transitional housing project proposed for Lorraine Street. The city held a virtual engagement session Thursday night to hear residents' concerns about the project.

Each neighbour who spoke at virtual public session felt project should be built elsewhere

During a virtual public meeting, Steve Jacques, general manager of community development for the City of Greater Sudbury, fielded many questions from residents who live on or around Lorraine Street. That is the site of a proposed transitional housing project. (Zoom screenshot)

Several people in Ward 5 of Greater Sudbury shared their concerns about a transitional housing project proposed for Lorraine Street. It was during a city-led engagement session about the proposal for their neighbourhood, near Lasalle Blvd and Notre Dame Ave.

Eleven people registered as delegates to share their thoughts during Thursday's virtual public meeting, which followed a presentation from city staff and community partners about what the project would mean for the neighbourhood. Others took part in a question-and-answer session following the delegations.

Several neighbours aired concerns regarding the character and safety of the neighbourhood, especially with a nearby school, daycare and park. The most common issue shared among neighbours was the lack of notice that such a project was in consideration, with many first hearing of the project through news reports.

"We were completely blindsided by the announcement of this proposed site of the transitionally housed in a residential neighborhood," Maria Biasucci told the city representatives. "Apology is warranted."

The proposal in question is for a 40-unit transitional housing site, meant to help people leave homelessness and gain the skills they need to sustain their life and maintain a home. It would feature in-house social services and provide links to supportive programs in the city.

External factors caused lack of consultation, says city

Sudbury will likely receive $7.4 million for the project from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's rapid housing initiative, provided its application meets the criteria. 

Two limiting factors in the application were a short window to submit a proposal, and the site in question needed to be city-owned and properly zoned. The aim of those restrictions was to arrive at a site that could be move-in ready within a year of getting funding.

These factors, the city said, are why council agreed to move forward with the project before a full community consultation process could conclude.

Steve Jacques, Sudbury's general manager of community development, addressed the short timeline and Biasucci's concerns following the meeting.

"We moved as as quickly and as judiciously as possible, and unfortunately, that didn't happen. We apologize that we weren't able to get out and do a formal engagement process," he said.

Neighbours won't easily accept project

A key factor in the success of transitional housing is neighbourhood integration, said panelist Natalie Aubin, the administrative director of mental health and addictions at Health Sciences North. Based on the comments from the neighbours at the meeting, this may be difficult to achieve at the Lorraine St. location.

"It's beneficial to these individuals if they feel welcome into a neighbourhood, and they will not find this here," said Rae-Ann Blais.

Some participants in the question-and-answer portion of the Zoom call asked what recourse residents would have to overturn the decision.

Jacques said the only option would be for two-thirds of council to agree to re-open debate on the transitional housing proposal, and arrive at a different decision following that process.

Councillor changes stance on housing project

Councillor Robert Kirwan previously supported the Lorraine Street transitional housing project, but has since reversed course. (Zoom screenshot)

Ward 5 councillor Robert Kirwan offered some brief opening remarks at the start of the meeting. While he was originally a major supporter of such a development in his ward, he has reversed that position after meeting with concerned constituents and reading more about the proposal.

His main issues are with the lack of services in the neighbourhood outside of the proposed facility and suggested that the downtown might make for a better location. Kirwan said there are schools and a daycare in the area, but there is no grocery store within walking distance. He also mentioned possible damages to the character of the neighbourhood.

Dislike not universal among speakers

One delegate spoke in favour of the transitional housing project at Lorraine St., though she lives in another neighbourhood. Carli Gasparini, who said she has worked in the homelessness field, offered a counterpoint to the argument that transitional housing should be downtown near existing services.

"Projects like this are the answer for the homelessness and opioid crisis in our community, for our neighbours who are currently active in their addiction, their families and for our community as a whole. This project will be life changing," she said.

A downtown option was something many neighbours said they preferred.

Public comments to continue online

At the 8 p.m. close of the meeting, the moderator indicated that there were still more than 25 questions remaining. Greater Sudbury staff said all of the questions and answers from the presentation will be posted on the city's 'Over To You' online portal, including those that could not be addressed during the time allotted for the meeting.

A recording of the meeting and the question-and-answer submissions, including those that could not answered before the session ended, should appear online early next week.

As of the time of the meeting, the transitional housing project is moving toward construction on Lorraine Street.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Warren Schlote is a reporter at CBC Sudbury. Connect with him via email at warren.schlote@cbc.ca, or on Twitter at @ReporterWarren.

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