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More seniors’ housing in the offing as Sprucelawn project moves ahead

Laverne Brubacher (left) and Dan Driedger celebrate the start of the expansion at Sprucelawn in St. Jacobs. [BiIl Atwood]

Seniors in Woolwich will soon have a few more options when it comes to affordable housing. Construction started this week on the 28-unit expansion to Sprucelawn apartments. The project is set for completion in summer of 2023, and is badly needed, said Dan Driedger executive director of the non-profit MennoHomes.

“Sprucelawn has over 100 people on their waiting list right now. There’s a long waiting list for affordable housing, and it’s even more difficult for people who have limited income and can’t compete with the market rent units that are out there right now. Those are just beyond their capacity to afford,” Driedger said.

The expansion was originally a project of Sprucelawn Apartments for Seniors Inc. until they amalgamated with MennoHomes earlier this year. Laverne Brubacher is the former chair of Sprucelawn. 

“Rents in the last year and a half or two years have gone up exponentially and so finding someplace to rent in the first place is difficult. And finding something that is affordable is even more difficult, because the rents are almost doubling in some areas. And so for people looking for a place to live when they’re downsizing from their home it’s difficult to find a place that will work as far as the affordability part is concerned,” Brubacher said.

“There’s a huge need for affordable seniors housing. We were successful with a 30 unit complex and it was paid for a number of years ago. We’ve kept our rents at 80 per cent of market value all along and there’s a rent-geared-to-income project… and we wanted to carry that legacy on,” he said.

According to Brubacher the project has been in the works for quite some time.

“We had done some strategic planning about 10 years ago and looked at various options for how we can make Spruce grow. And we looked at the property behind and none of it was feasible,” he explained.

In 2016 the company acquired the needed land (from a private seller) for expansion and a parking lot, however there were still many obstacles that needed to be overcome, Brubacher said. That included buying a piece of land from the township. While the township sold the land for only $2, Sprucelawn paid all transition costs, including legal fees, and remediation at a cost of $130,000.

“Then we joined the three properties and then we had to do a site condition on the overall thing and there were some test holes and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of studies that had to be done on all that stuff,” Brubacher explained.

The expansion will have 20 one-bedroom units, with four of those being wheelchair accessible. It will also have eight two-bedroom units. The total cost of the project is $10.7 million, $2.7 million of which was funded by Waterloo Region. The region also waived the development fees of $405,000, while the township waved fees of $192,000. MennoHomes is currently conducting a fundraising campaign needing to raise another $2 million.

“There’s not a lot of accessible affordable housing for seniors in Woolwich Township, so this will make a big dent there.  It’ll be around for decades to come,” said Driedger.

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