Housing crunch

Whether you call it “affordable” or, as some local politicos are terming it these days “attainable,” the cost of housing is a major issue in communities of all sizes across Canada.

Locally, municipal politicians were inundated with voter concerns on the issue while on the hustings in 2018, and since then it seems few council meetings go by without the desperate need for a more diverse housing being mentioned.

At the most recent county council meeting, the issue was raised during discussion of a preliminary report on efforts to create a county-wide housing strategy. The report notes that preliminary discussions with local builders and developers indicate they feel “there currently is no business case for developing homes at a value less than $400,000.”

The report, from county economic development director Jana Burns also notes that “where builders are willing to develop townhouses, public reaction to higher density is negative and often derails such projects.”

While the “not-in-my-backyard” crowd is as vociferous as ever at public meetings where multi-unit housing is proposed, there are clear signs that local politicians are prepared to take a firmer stand in favour of increased density.

Wellington North Mayor Andy Lennox commented that his council “made the pitch for a greater variety of housing mix,” in response to studies of the local housing market. He also noted he was surprised by the mix of housing that already exists in the area and the lack of controversy it generates.

“Frankly I was shocked. There was way more semis, triplexes and apartments already in our communities that nobody ever complains of, yet they complain when a new one [is going] to be constructed,” said Lennox.

Councillor Doug Breen added, “If we want to have different types of housing, we as elected officials have to be willing to put up with a hostile gallery saying that they don’t want it.”

Which is pretty much what happened in the case of a proposed fourplex development in Clifford recently. At a Sept. 17 public meeting, neighbours raised concerns regarding buffering, density, compatibility, potential for use as low-cost housing, grading, aesthetics and the parking plan.

All were fair enough objections, though the discussion did degenerate to the point one citizen commented, “It’s been a quiet neighbourhood and I can’t see adding any more people.”

That’s a bit more exclusionary than most municipalities can afford to be at a time when seniors are being priced out of their home communities when they need to downsize and employers struggle to find workers because people can’t afford to move to the area.

Also during the meeting, the developer felt compelled to offer a defence that the multi-unit development wouldn’t actually be “affordable” at all, stating, “So these won’t be rented to – I guess, what everyone is afraid of – it will be good, working-class people just like ourselves.”

Fortunately, in this case, the system worked as it should, with municipal officials cooperating with the developer and county planners to come up with modifications that addressed, to at least some extent, residents’ concerns.

To avoid stagnation, it’s necessary to create communities that are welcoming to people of varying ages and economic backgrounds – and that means more than just detached single-family homes are needed. To keep things moving forward, it’s going to take both foresight and forbearance from both elected leaders and citizens of the communities they serve.