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Affordable Housing and Zoning By-laws

Posted by Sherry Rioux on June 21, 2007

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.

3 thoughts on “Affordable Housing and Zoning By-laws

  • Dean Currie
    on June 22, 2007

    Dear Marg:

    The issue with affordable housing is really simple. Collingwood requires both rental and purchaseable (ownable) housing that is affordable to the working class people of this town. It is not complicated at all.

    Rental properties are important, but not as important as affordable homes for purchase. If we concentrate on rentals, then we primarily cater to the property investment speculators that will have their investments being paid for by the working class that are paying the rent. The working class people will not be getting ahead at all, and have nothing in equity to show for their very hard earned dollars.

    Affordable housing for purchase is the most socially responsible and compassionate goal. Without home ownership being a reasonable goal for the bulk of the working class, there will be no sustainable working class in this community.

    Whether it be townhomes, semis, quads, detached, et al… town planning for sustainability should rightly anchor it’s common denominator on making certain there is ample opportunity for the majority of the working class to achieve home ownership. Otherwise, there will be no sustainable working class in this community for the future.

    Best regards,

  • Marg
    on June 22, 2007

    I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment but realistically, how could we afford to build homes that people making $300.00 a week could afford? The price of a lot would now be out of reach on its own. I loved the “Options For Homes” concept but it couldn’t even come close in pricing. I also don’t think governments will subsidize over a hundred thousand dollars to build a house. So how would we be able to accomplish this?

  • Dean Currie
    on June 23, 2007

    Dear Marg:

    If there is a WILL to achieve a result, there is always a WAY that can be found to facilitate the desired result.

    It is painfully obvious that home ownership in this area for the lower wage earning people is tremendously difficult, and in most cases, an impossible dream. BUT, THIS IS THE PROBLEM!

    I agree that considering the existing real estate market suffering largely inflated property values due to market demand and investor speculation, that there is no obvious or practical manner to achieve an truly affordable housing development.

    The challenge is to “think outside” the existing market, or paradigm, and create an opportunity for change in a limited and controllable manner. To achieve a truly affordable housing development will likely require breaking away from the runaway free market real estate system.

    To create such a development would likely require a new, unique zoning type that could protect the development from external real estate pressures. It may be government assisted, it may be a cooperative, it may be an owner shareholder system, it may result in a commune type of sub-community… it may be some combination of any of the above, or something totally different that may work better.

    When something is truly recognized as a necessary requirement, there are no bounds to the creativity necessary to achieve the desired result. No amount of naysaying, fear, uncertainty, or doubt preaching can stop what clearly needs to be done.

    It remains to be seen whether the local politics truly recognizes that “affordable housing” is more than a dream… it is a necessity for the future sustainability of this community.


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