Renewed community confidence spurs Sault developers: With Algoma Steel on solid footing, city planners seeing more apartment rental units on the books.

AuthorRoss, Ian

The emergence of Algoma Steel from bankruptcy protection has kicked up the confidence of local developers, according to the City of Sault Ste. Marie's planning director.

Don McConnell estimates his department receives four to five applications monthly from developers looking to build rental apartment units, an activity that had basically flatlined during the three years that the steel producer was undergoing financial restructuring.

But through last summer and fall as word spread that Sault Ste. Marie's biggest industrial player was finishing the process, a bunch of smart and savvy local developers, with a good handle on the market, saw an opportunity to fill a much-needed housing gap.

As the Sault's population ages, many seniors are looking to sell their homes and downsize. The service industry to cater to these folks only figures to grow, and that necessitates the need for employers and the City of Sault Ste. Marie to aggressively recruit young people to relocate to the Sault.

"When you're talking to these companies, they're looking for anybody," said McConnell of the current labour crunch. "Algoma Steel is looking to hire 800 people over the next two years."

An interesting development trend is the repurposing of former elementary and secondary schools into other uses.

McConnell mentioned five former schools that have been converted, or are in the process of being converted, into apartment dwellings or for other community uses, such as a library.

"We've had phenomenal success with old schools," and it's something his department has been actively encouraging.

Instead of being bulldozed or sitting vacant for years, developers are snapping up these still structurally sound buildings, which often become new homes for seniors who live in the neighbourhood or newcomers to the city.

"When people first come to I a community, they don't buy a house. They live in an apartment to see if they like the community or their job, then they think about buying a house," McConnell said.

To spur that activity, the city introduced a Rental Housing Incentive Program five years ago, essentially a municipal tax break with a rebate to developers of 100 per cent in the first year and graduating up to 25 per cent by the fourth year.

McConnell doesn't directly attribute the program to a developer's decision to build new units, but he believes it has played a factor in the number of planning applications he's seeing.

So far, city council has approved 11 projects for a...

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