By Chad Ingram
County-based housing organization Places for People is asking the County of Haliburton to partner with it on the development of an affordable housing project that would be located on an undeveloped portion of the Wee Care property along County Road 21, that property owned by the county.
Haliburton County councillors heard a presentation from members of Places for People during their online Aug. 26 meeting.
“Our specific goal is 10 to 12 units by September of 2022,” said Fay Martin, the organization’s vice president and one of its founding members.
Places for People currently owns five properties with a total of eight rental units in the county. It purchased and renovated those dwellings, renting them to tenants at affordable rates, with the goal of putting those tenants in a position to become owners of their own homes at some point. Eighteen families have lived in its buildings during the 13 years of the organization’s existence
“People have a right and a need to appropriate housing,” Martin said of the organization’s philosophy. “Without secure housing, they can’t reasonably be expected to thrive, and when people don’t thrive, neither do their communities, either socially or economically.”
The County of Haliburton has sent a goal of creating 750 housing units during the next decade
“We could like to contribute 40 of those units,” Places for People president Jody Curry told councillors.
“We’re pivoting from renovating older family homes and duplexes, as Fay described, to building new, multi-unit developments for mixed populations of one- and two-person households,” Curry said. “We’ve chosen new build to increase the housing stock, and make use of modern approaches to energy efficiency and design. We’ve chosen multi-unit to make faster progress towards meeting pressing community need.”
Curry said the organization’s goal is to create 10 to 12 units every two to three years.
“There is convincing research that multi-unit developments in small clusters offer opportunities to create healthier communities by mixing age and socio-economic status,” she said. “Our projects will house tenants that require affordable rent, and tenants that fall into the missing middle. Those are the people who earn too much to require subsidies, but not enough to afford current market rents.”
“We are focusing on one- and two-person households because that is the greatest need in our county,” Curry continued. “Stats show that 76 per cent of households here are comprised of one or two persons, but only six per cent of our housing stock is one-bedroom, and that’s a very large gap.”
Curry said the organization has been planning its proposed project for the past couple of years, and expects it to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.
“All we need is a piece of property,” she said.
The County of Haliburton purchased the Wee Care property, which totals 3.5 acres, in late 2019 for $770,000. The county acts as landlord to Wee Care, which continues to be operated by the daycare provider.
“We are interested in partnering with you to develop this property on a mixed-use basis, that would protect and augment its current use as a childcare facility and also help to address the housing shortage in the county,” Curry said. “We would like to construct clusters of a combination of affordable and market-rent units in an appropriately scaled development. We see the potential for a phased, inclusive development that could incorporate other community uses as well.”
Places for People treasurer Max Ward emphasized the strong community support the organization is given, receiving $89,000 in donations and garnering some $16,000 through fundraising during the past year. “This is particularly impressive because we didn’t even have a project on the go at the time, and our donations tend to increase when we have a visible project,” Ward said.
“We’ve been borrowing and repaying money from community members successfully from the get-go,” he said. “Local investors have made each of our property purchases possible. All but one of our mortgages are held by local individuals.”
Ward told councillors that Places for People’s properties have a combined market value of approximately $800,000. “Only $283,000 of that debt is outstanding,” he said. “We intend to leverage this equity to fund a portion of our next project. Going forward, community investment will play an even bigger role, as we branch out into larger, multi-unit developments. We have been for over a year, preparing to formalize and expand our community loan program as a community bond program. Community bonds allow non-profits, charities and co-operatives in Ontario to borrow funds from their support network to finance a capital project.”
“Community bonds are a better investment than GICs in many ways, because an investor gets to invest in our community, the money stays here and helps in the county in all sorts of ways,” Ward said, adding those bonds would be RESP- and TFSA-eligible.
“It’s great to see a proposal like this,” said County Warden Liz Danielsen. “ … As you know, when we discuss acquisition or use of real property, we will go into closed session to deliberate what you’re proposed to us, we may ask for some documentation going forward, but this is a fabulous opportunity for us to consider.”
“Certainly, housing is one of the core reasons why I got involved in municipal politics,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. “And, like connectivity, no one path by itself will lead to success.”
“This is an exciting proposal, and I’m sure that county council will give it due consideration and we will get back to you,” Danielsen said.