Lambton County’s public housing units need a big fix – a $40 million fix over the next 10 years.
That’s according to Margaret Roushorne, general manager of social services for Lambton County. In a recent report to council, she laid out the costs facing the county to improve the aging housing units.
There are 830 housing units housing 1,500 which are owned and operated by Lambton County; many of those are in Sarnia but there is geared to income housing on 13 sites in communities including Petrolia, Brigden, and Watford. Most of the units were built between 1961 and 1973.
“The projected cost for the programmed repair/replacement of Building Components, Unit Interiors and ongoing Building Sustainability and Contents over the next 10 years is currently identified to be $39,819,500,” writes Roushorne in a report to councillors. “With these costs averaged over 10 years, approximately $4 million is required annually to address the capital needs of the existing housing stock.
“A further $200,000 per year is projected to be required in additional operating costs to offset lost revenue from unit vacancy during repair and to facilitate project planning and management,” she says adding extra staff would have to be hired to manage the ongoing repairs.
Roushorne says municipalities are now the sole provider of geared-to-income housing. The federal and provincial government have downloaded the responsilbity and now are phasing out funding for the units.
“We have an aging housing stock and we have a need for capital work to be done,” she says. “We need constistent funding to help us with the work that needs to be done.”
Local politicians, when confronted with the numbers, were concerned. “This is huge,” says Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley of the 10-year plan to spend $4 million a year to upgrade the housing units.
And while the amount of money is stunning, where county officials suggest the money to fund the project be found is also causing concern. In her report Roushorne suggested the county could collecting the $1.5 million from the now expired special levy for Bluewater Health’s construction project and redirect the money to rebuilding the housing units.
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold expressed concern about using money which some councillors had suggested be used to help Lambton College build its new health sciences centre. “When we talked about the college…that was what sold it for most of us because we didn’t want to be increasing taxes,” he told council recently. “I don’t want to tie our hands by saying were going to direct that money to this.”
Bradley agreed, adding the 10-year plan was a “substaintal policy decision” that needed to be made while looking at the whole budget.
The issue will be discussed this fall at a policy making session before the budget begins.