Affordable housing an election issue

While we welcome the ribbon cutting at Whispering Pines 2 in Haliburton last Wednesday, we continue to worry about the lack of affordable housing in Haliburton County.

In case you don’t know, Whispering Pines is the housing project that is located along the road between Haliburton and Minden, just west of the Tim Hortons. The first phase was built in 2013. On Sept. 4, phase two was officially opened, with 12 townhouses.

The good news is 12 families have found affordable housing as a result of the expansion.

Whispering Pines is a partnership of the federal and provincial governments and the Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton Housing Corporation (KLH). The County of Haliburton kicked in some funding and Dysart et al waived fees.

Another project is also in the works for Minden. It, too, is a second phase. This time to Pinegrove Place, near the arena. It will see an additional 21 units. Construction tenders closed this past Tuesday and the corporation aims to have residents move in by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. All up, that means 33 households will have found housing thanks to recent initiatives.

The sad part is, despite spending millions of dollars on both projects, the KLH has barely touched its ballooning waiting list. It’s CEO, Hope Lee, said that list has grown a whopping 375 per cent since 2013 and now sits at about 1,700 households. Of course, that’s not just for Haliburton, but Kawartha Lakes, too.

The problems are many. Builders are more interested in erecting family-owned homes, versus rentals. As a result, vacancy rates are low for rentals. Since new units can’t match the demand, rent costs are naturally going up.

One thing that has to happen locally is encouraging developers to build more rental housing. We are seeing that locally. Gardens Retirement Development Inc. for example looks to be going ahead with its 74-unit housing complex at 1 Sunnyside St. in Haliburton. And, Greg Bishop is planning to build 40 units of student housing next to the college. However, in both cases, the target market is well-off seniors and students, so it isn’t going to tackle the KLH waiting list.

According to a 2018 story in the Lindsay Advocate, at a municipal level, the aspirational goal for builders is to do 25 per cent rental housing. However, real estate agents say that will never happen. A more realistic goal might be five to 10 per cent. That would help the local picture.

There is some hope in Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan, with goals of increasing the housing supply, greater rent controls and better tenant protection. Minden Hills’ housing task force is lobbying for the creation of more garden suites and accessory units; clusters of tiny homes; downtown revitalization, such as housing above retail; and a made in Minden Hills seniors campus.

With the federal election looming, the question of housing is also a good one for local candidates. Where do they and their parties stand on federal government support for affordable housing in Canada? This truly is an issue that will require all three levels of government to tackle in the coming years.

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