By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Algonquin Highlands is taking steps toward encouraging more affordable housing in the township by taking stock of possible options.
Council recently tasked staff to prepare a report on means of municipal support to address housing availability within the township. A number of supports are currently available to help support the development of additional residential units within Algonquin Highlands.
Councillors got a look when they met June 15 at that report prepared by Sean O’Callaghan, one of the municipality’s planners.
“This is some blue sky thinking on our part,” said Mayor Liz Danielsen.
But, she said, if councillors had some ideas to offer, O’Callaghan might have a direction in which to work.
Deputy Mayor Jennifer Dailloux said her mind goes to a couple things regarding future zoning bylaw amendments.
She said Algonquin Highlands councils have skirted for years around the possibility of tiny home communities to provide housing.
“It’s a big conversation,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing. But there are some examples out there of how it is working and not working.”
She questioned a township’s role in encouraging the construction of affordable housing as opposed to more housing in general that could be for people from all financial levels.
“The term incentive is terrifying when it comes to housing,” Dailloux said. “Any incentive worth its muster is going to be a big one.”
Dailloux asked if there could be something outside the parameters of planning legislation that would enable more municipal support for affordable housing.
“There are already incentives, sort of a tool box of things laid out for things that we could do on our own,” Danielsen said. “I don’t think it would preclude us if we thought that there was going to be something that would really support affordable housing, which is maybe not necessarily the most suited for Algonquin Highlands.”
Danielsen said opportunities lay in land donations, dropping permit fees, communal water and sewer services.
“I’ve got a suspicion that we’re not finished seeing changes that are going to come from the province that will move forward with this,” she said.
One of the greatest problems, Danielsen said, is the very definition of what is affordable and what that means.
She said there may be opportunities in tiny home development clusters that would be affordable. Another possibility that’s been talked about is to take a parcel of land and build a number of homes on a communal utility system.
O’Callaghan said the idea of communal services has garnered favour at the provincial level. And it would require the county’s official plan to be updated and then the municipality’s official plan to follow suit.
Councillor Lisa Barry broached the idea of a multi-residential build with shared services and one unit is allotted for affordable housing while the rest are sold at market value.
“I think we might run into trouble trying to decide who should acquire a property like that,” Danielsen said.
The mayor suggested a likely scenario would be for the municipality to build a small house and sell it at cost plus five per cent or something. Then the proceeds from that first build be used to fund a second build.
“You could do it that way,” she said. “As far as how you would determine who would be eligible, there is a variety of different ways that you could do that.”
She said the township could lop off 10 acres from the airport land to be used for affordable housing. But that spawns transportation problems that would require more investment.
“Do we want to borrow that kind of money or get involved in that level of development?” Danielsen said.
There’s been proposals and ideas broached in discussions with the City of Kawartha Lakes, which is the housing provider for Algonquin Highlands, that have not been well received, Danielsen said.
And that’s led to a line of thought that maybe there should be a Haliburton County housing authority.
“It will be interesting to see how that trickles down at the county level,” she said. “Or whether that’s something that’s even feasible, where the discussions go.
“But, for now, I just wanted to hear thoughts. We asked for housing and a discussion about housing to be on our radar.”