NORTH PERTH – It’s a project that there has been a lot of talk about for the past few years and on Aug. 19, Ryan Erb, executive director of the United Way Perth Huron, said there is good news and progress as far as the development of the North Perth Community Hub is concerned.
“I’ll begin that by telling you the story of what we are calling the Community Renewal Company,” he said. “United Way is incubating a new program for our region… We haven’t decided whether it will be a program of the United Way longer-term or stand-alone charity. It will concentrate on building capital projects for our region that are the kinds of projects a developer wouldn’t take on because they don’t make enough money for a developer to do but there is still a need.”
Erb said these projects will include things like community hubs because they are not likely to break even, but they are still important to the community.
He also mentioned housing as a possible project the Community Renewal Company would undertake because there is not enough attainable housing for people to live and work in the region.
“Affordable housing for people who have a little bit lower income in our region is a problem,” said Erb. “Also supportive housing for people who have lower income and also need supports from social service agencies to do well, whether that’s support from an addictions agency or a mental health agency – those kinds of things. So the community renewal company potentially will be looking to try to help to improve the housing situation as well.”
He circled the conversation back to the community hub project in North Perth.
“We are now looking at the project and we’re having conversations with our friends at the library and the municipality to talk about how we might add housing to the project,” said Erb. “That’s the really big change. You know we haven’t decided what, how many or exactly how it would work but we’re hoping there will be some kind of rental housing in the project as well.”
What he said they are imagining right now is that the library will be rebuilt, ensuring that the historical Carnegie Library portion remains.
“The 1990 building probably we would be having to tear that down and rebuild,” said Erb. “I think it’s known… it’s costing the municipality so much money to operate that they need to do something significant with that building. So we would end up with a new library.”
Helen Dowd, United Way’s manager of community development for North Perth, said they are meeting with the Health Unit, the Salvation Army for the food bank, and several smaller agencies that are interested in one or two days a week at the community hub.
“Perhaps the City of Stratford, they would have their own dedicated office there (for social services),” she said. “There is good interest in that… There are at least 12 agencies that have signed on.”
Erb said they are working with the architects that worked on the first drafts a few years ago to redesign now with all these elements included.
“What we anticipate happening is after we receive the designs… there will be a consultation period with all the partners to make sure we are getting it right over the next couple of months, he said. “We hope then to begin to talk to the municipality about the project again so it’s going to come back to council at that point. Sometime in the fall, I would say. If council remains on board we will hopefully be moving ahead.”
According to Erb, it’s hard to say what the timeline is.
“It’s still going to be a couple of years for sure but we would be moving into a time when we would be raising money locally for the project,” he said. “We’re also hoping to offer an investment option – I’m not sure if you have ever heard of a community bond before but it would be something like people investing in the project but getting a rate of return a wee bit better than a GIC.”
They will also be seeking donations and they anticipate being able to secure some grants related to the project.
“Of course there will be some traditional financing that happens perhaps through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation because we’re putting housing into it,” said Erb. “We’re hoping it will qualify for what they call ‘patient capital.’”
That’s basically a 50-year expectation on a low-interest loan for a significant portion of the building.
“Then there will be tenants in the building so hopefully it generates enough funds to make it sustainable,” he said.
The hope is that the new build will happen in the same location where the Listowel library is now.
“One of the reasons why that is possible is because there is additional municipal parking across the road,” said Erb. “They purchased it from Spinrite. It’s on the south side of the library. So that was part of the thinking behind purchasing that parking to make it possible that the project could expand some.”
Dowd said they are looking at building everything environmentally-friendly which should make it inexpensive for people to pay their hydro bills. She also said they are looking at having it be “silver friendly.”
“That was new terminology to me – making things seniors friendly, that’s very important because Huron and Perth have more seniors per average than the rest of the province,” she said. “So these are all things that we’re going in with our eyes wide open on.”
Erb said they want to make sure that people understand it’s still an emerging conversation, not a done deal.
“We don’t want to give people the impression that we’re jumping the gun on due process but we also want to be very transparent with the public and let them know that this is what the plans are and many partners are trying to work together because we think this solves a lot of issues – access to services is why we got into the hub thing in the first place for the community,” he said. “Number two, it solves the challenge that the municipality has with its library facility. (There will be) a lot of work when it has to be done.
“It’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money but this is a longer-term solution that hopefully would cost less in the longer term.”
The third point Erb emphasized is that they know there is such a challenge to find rental housing in the region and they think this can be part of the solution.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner