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'Dignity, respect, hope': County surpasses housing target early

Since 2014, the county has spent close to $220 million in affordable housing programs, and a new decade-long affordable housing strategy is set to begin in 2024

After years of sitting vacant, a building on Tiffin Street in Barrie was filled today not only with people but also with hope.

Officials from the County of Simcoe were at the site of the new 14-unit affordable housing complex, located at 77 Tiffin St., to officially announce having not only achieved the housing targets set out in the county’s 10-year affordable housing plan, but actually beating it.

“Today is about the fact of the completion that we overshot our numbers of 2,685 affordable housing units, which we’d planned on having done by 2024. We actually hit 2,775 in the ninth year into our 10-year program. We are launching our 'Building Up' campaign as we know we want to start looking at the next 10 years,” Warden Basil Clarke said just prior to the event on Thursday morning.

When the county first began on the program in 2014, Clarke said there was already a desperate need for affordable housing units across the county.

“I remember starting with 32 units. People thought it was an impossible task … but we believed and invested over $220 million into these projects and to hit that 2,775 and to do it in nine years is just great news because the demand has gotten worse," he said. "After COVID, people are struggling financially and we are going to sit down and work on the next 10-year strategy and I am really looking forward to seeing what we come up with.”

Clarke said it’s always exciting to see a new building like 77 Tiffin so close to being ready to open its doors, adding the county is also in the process of working on another 130 units at the Orillia campus, have broken ground on a 50-unit project in Bradford West Gwillimbury, and have a concept for another 150 units on Rose Street in Barrie. 

“We have already started our next 10-year strategy, even though we haven’t sat down and worked out the numbers," the warden said. "I am so proud of the staff here at the county and how well they’ve done bringing these projects together."

Since 2014, the county has spent close to $220 million in affordable housing programs, and a new decade-long affordable housing strategy is set to begin in 2024. That strategy will carry through until 2034, and will include new goals and innovative strategies to create homes for low- and middle-income families and individuals across the region.

Each unit that's created helps build up an investment in the future, Clarke said during today's announcement.

“When a person uses this as a head start to move forward in life as they move on and get back on their feet, it opens up that place for somebody else. We know these homes will affect hundreds of thousands of lives over the generations to come because we’ve built them to last,” he said. 

"Building up communities is not a sole effort of just our county, but rather has to do with a lot of strategic and meaningful partnerships between multiple municipalities, community agencies, provincial and federal governments, and from everyday people," said Mina Fayez-Bahgat, the county’s general manager of social and community services.

Fayez-Bahgat said the Tiffin Street project is just another example of how all of those partnerships can come together to create something great. 

“Tiffin Street was just an idea less than a year ago," he said. "This will be a 14-unit supportive housing unit to support those experiencing homelessness and has an on-site, 24-hour system of care."

"The David Busby Centre and Elizabeth Fry Society will be the two agencies that will help support the clients at the location, not only help ease their transition to end their homelessness, but also to be able to live in a place with dignity and respect and hope,” added Fayez-Bahgat.

Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall credited the county for taking what he called a “very challenging site” and turning it into what he believes is going to become an “incredible success story."

Barrie city council is in a unique position, he said, as it currently contains four members who grew up or previously lived in social housing at some point in their lives.

“If you think about having 11 members of council, and the investments that were made in those four individuals, that’s the value of the work being done in this building," he said. "It’s not about bricks and mortar, it’s about lives changed ... and I was one of them.

"Every time we see these types of investments in people’s futures and the opportunity that exists in Simcoe County, and certainly in Barrie, I am ecstatic,” Nuttall added.

Patricia Pielow lives down the street and has been living in one of the city’s affordable housing units for the last seven years.

“Seven years ago, I was staying in a cabin with outdoor plumbing because I just couldn’t afford housing in this city at that time," she said. "I had thought about moving north … but I love Barrie and I loved my walks along Kempenfelt Bay every morning with my brother. This is a beautiful community."

When Pielow initially put her name on the list for housing about 12 years ago, she was told there was a seven-year wait.

“None of us expected that we would end up not being able to afford housing after we retired. … When I got accepted by Simcoe County Housing, I was so thrilled. I love my building and I love my apartment. They had the foresight to put in extra wide doors, elevators and a handicap accessible bathroom.

"This is when I realized it will be my forever home. The building is still beautiful," Pielow said. 

Building communities isn’t just about bricks and mortar, said Fayez-Bahgat. 

“It’s about the community itself and the place you get to call home. The goal of Simcoe County is always to create these strong, vibrant and healthy communities," he said.