By Vivian Collings
The site plan application of the Highway 35 Affordable Housing Project is lagging, awaiting initial construction, after facing multiple setbacks over the past year.
The delays sparked discussion about who is responsible for solutions to the housing crisis during the Township of Minden Hills’ regular council meeting on July 28.
Ward 2 Councillor Pam Saynesaid it’s important to do something to address housing now and not wait for the future.
“We can’t just be a government that’s trying to wait and lobby. We have to start being creative on this as well. We have to start listening to our constituents so that we can go about [homelessness] locally too.”
The site plan application update was given by township planning consultant Darryl Tighe, and he said the initial delay was due to budget changes that called for design revisions of the housing units.
Tighe said although the budget had changed, the amount of units proposed to be built will remain the same.
These revisions caused the anticipated date for site plan approval to move from early Sept. 2021 to early Feb. 2022.
Ultimately, the completed site plan approval application was not recieved by the township until Mar. 1.
The application was circulated to the township’s departments, Ministry of Transportation (MTO), Hydro One, and the township peer review engineer by Mar. 7, 2022 with a deadline of Apr. 4, 2022 for review comments to be submitted from the respective parties.
Public works and Tatham Engineering were the only comments received by Apr. 4.
The township was expecting a submission from MTO by late June or early July. As of July 28, the awaited comments had still not yet been received, so, a clearance letter cannot be issued until these materials are recieved by the township and recirculated.
Ward 1 Councillor Bob Carter said many factors contribute to delays and difficulty in building affordable housing.
“I think it’s important to know that all affordable housing is in a very, very difficult state. The cost of materials, the cost of labour, and now the interest rates make it, I don’t want to say impossible, but very close to impossible to be able to build any type of public housing,” Carter said. “This is not only the case here in Kawartha Lakes/Haliburton, but I also sit on some other boards, and this is happening in other jurisdictions around Ontario and across the county. I think we are going to see more and more delays like this unless there are some significant changes at senior government levels, because right now, it’s almost impossible to make any project work.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said the current models put in place by high-level government are not working anymore.
“It’s in the public realm that the City of Kawartha Lakes is the shareholder of the housing corporation, to paraphrase, ‘the models are broken.’ What we’ve done for 10 or 20 years is no longer possible,” Devolin said.
He said the responsibility for advancing affordable housing projects falls on the federal and provincial governments.
“I think in a few weeks, when we are with this newly-elected provincial government, and the fact that we’re depending on Ottawa to bend the ears of the federal government, as much as we hear them howl that we’re a million and a half houses short in Ontario, the models are broken, and from municipal initiatives, there is almost nothing that can be done. So, we have high expectations that they will offer some support to us, so that projects like this can go forward. This is not good news, but might as well know the state of what’s going on as it relates to our community.”
He said the new council for the Township of Minden Hills, to be elected on Oct. 24, will face difficulty around the subject of affordable housing as it is a longstanding, province-wide issue.
“Other jurisdictions in Ontario share that grief with us. You’re going to hear back with not only this particular issue, the elements that relate to some of these delays, but I think substantial comment on what will or will not be possible. And I think it’s likely to feed in and be a subject of great debate for those candidates to understand who are running for office this fall.”
Sayne agreed with Devolin’s points, but said municipal council can help with affordable housing in other ways, such as governing short-term rentals.
“I think we also have to open ourselves up to what are the other pressures we’re receiving in this industry. One of them is the short-term rentals, and when we’re seeing the commodification and the commercialization of what was basic housing, and when I’m seeing that seniors and new families are being evicted for short-term rentals in our community, we really need faster action at the county level,” Sayne said.
She highlighted the urgency of the situation as community members need support immediately.
“So, if we’re talking about who’s got responsibility, we have extreme responsibility at the county level to make some quick decisions to protect the people in our community from becoming homeless, and there is an increasing number. We also have to decide how we’re going to supply the needs and support those people who are presently homeless, and we can’t just depend on federal and provincial legislation to change,” she said.
Tighe is currently working with the council solicitor on a site-plan agreement, but does not have an expected date for the beginning of construction.
“We’re hoping that we can come forward with a draft agreement and a recommendation to the township for approval of the site plan in order to facilitate the beginning of the building permit and construction process,” he said.