/Changing the narrative on housing
MP Jamie Schmale kicked off the 2023 Housing Summit on April 5 at the Minden Community Centre. He shared that he was aware of the concerns around housing, and is dedicated to making improvements where he can. /EMILY STONEHOUSE staff

Changing the narrative on housing

By Emily Stonehouse

Despite torrential downpour and flickering lights, the Minden Community Centre was packed on April 5 for the 2023 Haliburton County Housing Summit, presented by Places for People. 

“I want to be clear that we are focused on appropriate housing today,” said Fay Martin, vice-president of Places for People, “that’s our focus: appropriate homes for all.” 

The day kicked off with a short introduction from MP Jamie Schmale, who shared that he was aware of the desperate need for additional homes in Ontario. “We would need 650,000 more units to break even with our G7 counterparts,” said Schmale, alluding to the fact that Canada’s housing market Is the most undersupplied in all the G7 nations. 

Warden Liz Danielson spoke next, echoing Schmale’s concerns, and sharing that it is an issue that impacts communities across the board. “It’s a catch-22,” she said, “we can’t build homes because we don’t have workers, and we don’t have workers because we have no housing.” 

The day scheduled a series of panel discussions, including conversations with local business owners who are struggling to find staff due to the housing shortage, discussions about private market housing that accommodates aging, and the finances involved in the housing big picture. 

Keynote speakers included Lori-Anne Gagne, the CEO of Victoria Park Community Homes, and Graham Cubitt, Director of Projects & Development at Indwell, and President of Flourish. Both are founders and members of Hamilton is Home Collaborative, which was a program dedicated to “outside the box” thinking to address the housing crisis. 

Jennifer van Gennip was another keynote speaker. Van Gennip is the director of communications and advocacy for Redwood Park Communities, based out of Barrie. She is also affiliated with Simcoe County Alliances to end Homelessness, the Poverty Reduction Roundtable, and a series of living wage initiatives. 

“If we want social change,” she said, “we can’t just tell different stories. We need to change the narrative.” 

A story-teller by nature, van Gennip shared a variety of ways that advocacy groups could lobby for affordable and accessible housing. She referenced that telling people what they “could” or “should” do is ill-advised, rather, she recommended asking politicians and decision makers, “what would it take?” 

van Gennip has run with the concept of “YIMBY”, standing for Yes In My Back Yard. This is to counteract the public concept of NIMBY, where “Yes” is replaced with “No”.

“NIMBYism is a major obstacle,” she said, “it drags out the appeal process, pushes up costs, and keeps out new residents.”

Many housing advocacy groups are adamant that this mind-set exists as a primary reason affordable housing does not take natural shape within communities. Yes, while folks understand the need, they do not want it to happen near them. Largely due to the assumed social concerns that surround affordable housing. 

These social concerns – such as addictions, transportation, and mental health services – were not scheduled as specific points of conversation throughout the summit, though they did come up organically on occasion in relation to housing. Martin confirmed that this was done on purpose. “They [social issues] are indivisible from housing, but I specifically tried to keep them ancillary rather than the focus of the discussion,” said Martin. “Housing on its own is complicated enough to deserve its solo moment in the sun.”

Martin believes that overall, the event was well attended, and received favourably. With government, medical, and citizen-based representation from each municipality, as well as organizations such as the Haliburton County Development Corporation and the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce; it was a group of movers and shakers that she feels will take some of the discussions from the day, and run with them. 

“We as a community are seized with the issue and are being quite inventive with addressing it,” she said. “[We] need to do more of course, but have a self-sufficient attitude that will continue to stand us in good stead.”

As for next steps, Martin knows that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to housing. Though she did note that the wheels are in motion. “I promised those gathered that this was the beginning of a process, not simply an event,” she said.