Laura Waite is loving life since she moved into her new apartment in downtown Simcoe about a month ago.
“A month and five days,” Waite clarified in an interview during the official opening of Dogwood Suites last week.
Waite is one of 36 tenants now living inside the 51-unit supportive housing building on Norfolk Street South, which was a dilapidated rooming house until Hamilton-based Christian charity Indwell bought the property in 2018.
Stripped to the studs and rebuilt, the three-storey building now offers affordable housing in tidy apartments furnished by donations from local stores and non-profits.
“It feels like I’m in a hotel and never leave,” Waite, 33, said with a smile.
After her grandparents died and her mother moved into an assisted living home, Waite found the family’s three-bedroom house in Simcoe too much to handle. Now she and her cat, Suzie, share an affordable one-bedroom apartment that she says is easy to clean and is a short walk from her job at Food Basics, where she has worked for 11 years moving carts.
Waite can also walk to the swimming pool where the Special Olympics swimmer spends much of her leisure time.
With rent at Dogwood Suites geared to the Ontario Disability Support Program housing allowance, the price is right for Waite, who said finding an affordable apartment in Simcoe is “really hard.”
“Here, the amount that I’m paying is down a lot,” she said.
Dogwood Suites — named after Norfolk’s official flower — is Indwell’s second supportive housing project in Simcoe, after Hambleton Hall opened in a former church hall in 2016 with 35 apartments and five shelter beds.
Tenants in both buildings live independently but have round-the-clock access to on-site social services staff.
Indwell’s regional manager, Leah Logan, said blending affordable, supportive housing with social services and ground-floor commercial space is “a proven model that works for rural Ontario and is exemplified right here in Norfolk County.”
In a speech at the ribbon cutting on Thursday, Logan called the grand opening “a day of celebration” after four years of pandemic-inspired delays and construction price hikes.
Indwell staff first had to find homes for 47 people who were living in the pest-infested Norfolk Inn in what Logan described as “dismal” and “unsafe” conditions.
She thanked Norfolk County and senior levels of government for contributing the funds to turn a former haven for drugs and crime into a safe and clean apartment complex.
“Just because people can only afford less does not mean that they deserve less,” Logan said.
County council committed $250,000 and went in search of additional contributions, eventually securing $10.1 million through the federal National Housing Strategy and two provincial grants totalling $4.2 million.
Louise Lovell, Haldimand-Norfolk’s manager of homeless prevention services, welcomed Dogwood Suites as another step in addressing the significant need for affordable housing in the region.
A survey last fall found almost 120 local residents without adequate housing, and Lovell said the true number is likely much higher.
The Indwell build “is certainly going to go a long way to filling the need that we have for one-bedroom supported housing,” Lovell said.
Logan said Indwell’s nearly 900 tenants in southern Ontario have more than a roof overhead and support services on hand.
“We have seen housing become a space where recovery begins,” she said. “When we wrap around people by providing love, dignity and hope, their lives will be transformed.”
Now that she is settled into her new home, Waite said she looks forward to getting back into swimming and “regular life,” and is considering a return to school to become a fitness instructor.
And she is busy getting to know her neighbours.
“All of them are so nice. We have a wonderful staff and we do a lot of fun things like coffee time, bingo. We had a dance party,” she said.
“I just love it here.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator