‘Opportunity to make a difference’: County agrees to rental increase of $120,000 for transitional housing in Smiths Falls

Broadview Smiths Falls
The former Willowdale retirement home in Smiths Falls will have a new life as it will become home to 13 people experiencing homelessness in Lanark County who are living in hotels. Lanark County council agreed to a $120,000 rental increase to support the program through Lanark County Mental Health. Photo credit: Laurie Weir
Posted on: April 18, 2024

Original agreement increases to $416,000 as does number of rooms for use


A rent increase was cause for concern around the horseshoe at Lanark County council, but in the end, they agreed to pay an extra $120,000 to fund a transitional housing pilot project in Smiths Falls.

With the extra funding comes three additional rooms — up to 14 from 11 — for people experiencing homelessness and currently living in hotels in the county. One of the rooms is earmarked for office/administration use. 

In February, the county entered into an agreement with Lanark County Mental Health for $296,000 — funded through the Homelessness Prevention Program — to offer a supported transitional housing program in Smiths Falls at the former Willowdale retirement residence on Brockville Avenue. 

It is now owned by the Saumure Group of Companies, a local developer. 

Since February, the county’s agreement with LCMH has been finalized. There was a rush on setting up the program as the funding from the HPP need to be in place by the end of March. 

Now, there has been an increase in the rental component. 

Emily Hollington is the social services director for Lanark County. She shared with council on April 10 that the proposed program location has been moved in the building and now requires rental of 14 rooms, as opposed to 11, one of which must be office space for the case manager and other service providers.

“Negotiations with the facility owner has resulted in higher-than-expected rental costs. For the program to come to fruition, Lanark County Mental Health requires additional funding,” Hollington said.

An additional $120,000 is needed for rent supplement, over and above the approved budget of $132,000 bringing the total of the project to $416,000.  

Lanark County would be responsible for the costs associated to interior unit maintenance and unit turnovers after someone moves out. Maintenance (evenings and weekend calls) would be provided by current maintenance staff and repairs covered within this year’s LCHC maintenance budget, Hollington noted. 

“Significant building concerns, such as a leaking roof, electrical, plumbing, etc., would be the responsibility of the building owner.”

Currently, there is some minor upgrades, like flooring, being done inside, she said. 

Access to the rooms would be done through the shared space inside, and not directly from outside, as previously discussed. 

Coun. Shawn Pankow (Smiths Falls Mayor), said it’s “less than an ideal negotiation and $120,000 extra is impactful. At the same time, I fully believe in this housing-first opportunity. If this doesn’t proceed, I don’t believe we’ll have another opportunity anywhere in the county to enable this to happen. The conditions we see with people in our vulnerable population who are homeless doesn’t change. It won’t change. While there is a significant cost, I think we all recognize that if we don’t go upstream and try to fix some of these problems, then the downstream impacts are going to be with us forever.”

To be able to increase from 11 to 13 rooms, and get “these people stabilized and onto bigger and better things,” Pankow said. “As much as it’s a bitter pill to swallow, it’s still necessary.”

And less expensive than other alternatives, he noted. 

“It may have been too good to be true, but we still have an opportunity to make a difference for our population with this pilot project … if it proves to be successful, then we’ve made a good investment.”

Coun. Rickey Minnille (Mississippi Mills Deputy Mayor) didn’t like the idea of paying for the extra costs out of general reserves. 

“If the county is unable to fund this $120,000, this program is not going to happen,” Hollington said. “It’s going to fall apart. There isn’t another space similar to this in the county for us to access. That $296,000 will be reconciled by the ministry and returned to them.”

The county is already spending this money on hotels, she noted, as an overnight in a hotel in the county is about $150 per night. “It’s not cheaper to operate that way and people don’t have supports in the buildings.”

By comparison, a shelter bed in London was $111,000 annually, Hollington said. This program will be about $32,000 annually. 

“Doing housing with simple supports if more effective and less expensive,” she said. 

Homeless numbers are increasing, Hollington said, “and they’re going to continue to increase. I know it’s not ideal … there was disappointment some for sure.” 

The motion was supported by council.

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News