Sharleen Bannon has been on the waiting list for the Farm Point seniors’ home since the very beginning – for close to 15 years.
And after turning 75 years old this week, the Chelsea resident is now eligible for a room at Résidence du Petit Bois – a 12-unit social and affordable housing centre for semi-independent seniors, which is finally taking shape just behind the Farm Point Community Centre.
“Oh, I’m really, really excited by it,” said Bannon during a press event on Dec. 4 to mark the official groundbreaking for the $6.4 million seniors’ home.
“I think it’s wonderful. I mean, it’s been a long wait, and it’s been so sad to see so many of the older people who either moved away or died before they had a place.”
The idea of providing seniors in Chelsea with the ability to retire in their own community began in 2008 when then Coun. Claude Gervais was the Farm Point representative. Incoming councillor Céline Brault took over the campaign in 2010. She dedicated the next decade-plus to wading through rigorous and complicated government restrictions that delayed the project for years, including a provincial freeze on all seniors’ homes for three years following a deadly fire that killed 32 seniors in L’Isle-Verte in 2014.
But on Dec. 4, Brault, the president of the Chelsea Housing Corporation (CHC), was officially able to tell her community that it was all worth it.
“Today, the members of the CHC board of directors are proud to be able to say that the project we’ve been working on for over 13 years is becoming a reality,” she said during the Dec. 4 press conference.
“The start of construction of the Résidence du Petit Bois represents the realization of a dream: to have a residence that will provide a safe and affordable living environment for our seniors and that will shine in our community.”
Although construction began months ago, politicians from all levels of government – Pontiac MP Sophie Chatel, Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière, MRC des Collines Prefect Marc Carrière, Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard and Farm Point Coun. Rita Jain – gathered a safe distance from where machines were furiously digging just off River Road, with shiny shovels in hand, to stage their groundbreaking photo opp.
MNA Bussière, whose government chipped in over $4.1 million for the project through the Société d’habitation du Québec’s (SHQ), said he agrees that 15 years is too long to construct 12 affordable units in Chelsea – especially when there are more than 6,400 residents in the MRC des Collines region who are over 65 and just 162 private and social housing units available to house them. He told the Low Down that his government is working to reduce government red tape around social housing projects.
“If there are procedures like environmental authorizations, we try to accelerate the answers, of which can take up to eight months to a year,” said Bussière. “Sometimes we’re able to reduce them by three or four months, so that helps.”
He admitted that, with regard to housing regulations, “in Quebec, things are much more complicated.” He added that his party is working to simplify those regulations to increase housing starts.
Feds chip in $1.8 billion for Quebec housing
MP Sophie Chatel told the Low Down that the recent funding agreement, which will see $1.8 billion in federal cash go to Quebec’s housing strategy, is contingent on the province “streamlining the process” for social and affordable housing projects. She added that her government is also waiving GST for developers building strictly rental projects.
“Each construction project will have all of the GST refunded,” she said, referring to housing projects that will turn into rental properties. She added that she’s hoping Quebec will “follow suit” and waive PST charges for similar projects so that Quebec can be on par with Ontario.
“Developers in the Outaouais have projects on the Ottawa side. Where are they going to go because Ontario is also waving HST?” she said. “So, we need Quebec to help developers to make it more profitable to build rental units.”
Bussière wouldn’t comment on whether or not his party would consider dropping PST for social housing projects.
Nine of the 12 Résidence du Petit Bois units are eligible for a rent subsidy program through the SHQ, allowing seniors to cap their housing spending at 25 per cent of their income. The seniors’ home is set to open sometime in 2024, which gives Bannon more than enough time to apply for a unit officially. She’s “not in desperate need” for housing at the moment, she said, but added that she’s happy for others who are.
“It’s not as essential for me, but still, I think it’s wonderful for the community and for the local people who really want to stay here,” she said.