Affordable Housing and Zoning By-laws
With a new comprehensive zoning by-law under development, now is the time to seriously consider real solutions toward the affordable housing challenges faced in Collingwood. Recently, the town was granted 1.26 million dollars from the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program towards the creation of 18 units currently slated for development on the site of the former Tremont Hotel. While this is a positive message and at a least a step (any is better than none), does it really help to solve the problem?
We have some serious work to do before we can really tackle the issue. First, we need to define where the problems lie with affordable housing. Are we talking about ownership or rental? For years I’ve heard councilors talk about affordable new home construction and while that too is important, I think the “crisis” lies in affordable rental accommodation for those families in our community needing low rent accommodation. The next step is to establish need. How many units do we need to create? What is the real demand and what is the plan to fill it? Do we need 18 units or do we need 500?
How thoroughly have we examined alternatives that may really go a long way to solving the problem? Seven years ago, the Vision 2020 committee put forth numerous recommendations of creative and bold ideas being implemented in other communities. None have been acted upon. Yet. Now there is a real opportunity as we work with the new zoning by-law.
In my opinion, the real solution lies in the creation of accessory apartments. Think of all the empty units above stores. Think of all the one-storey commercial developments that could have second floors for housing units. Think of all the big older homes on quarter acre lots that could have a granny flat. What about all the new developments being built … why not require that a certain percentage include accessory units? How about incentives to developers in the form of density trade-offs if they create such units? Think of it – people are struggling to afford to buy a new home but if an apartment were included to help offset the carrying costs, the affordability improves for the buyer and, an affordable rental unit is created at the same time. On the matter of affordable housing, I think that one of the most progressive communities in Canada is Whistler where all of these ideas have been incorporated. They are not new ideas and the templates exist.
From the discussion at council on Tuesday night, it would appear that our current council has the political will to want to find solutions. I hope they will go back and read the Vision 2020 recommendations. I hope they will be bold and innovative. Our sustainability as a community depends on it.