Over the past several weeks, I’ve found myself writing about a myriad of issues relating to housing in the Highlands. While the stories may be different, there’s a common theme stringing them together – availability, or lack thereof, and affordability. This isn’t new. Housing has been an issue in Haliburton County long before I pitched up with pen and paper. And that, in and of itself, is the problem.
We’re all well aware of what’s going on now, so why aren’t we doing anything about it? I hear people admitting there’s a lack of housing in the Highlands, and that we sympathize with those who find themselves, quite literally, on the outside looking in. I’ve listened as various individuals and community groups emphasize their support for affordable housing.
So, again, why is it we haven’t seen any substantive movement on the handful of projects and developments that have been brought forward over the past year?
Dysart council agreed to give away land on Wallings Road more than a year ago to support the development of a 48-unit affordable housing complex, to be managed by Places for People. Since then, miles of bureaucratic red tape have held the project up, to the point that some area residents are questioning whether or not construction will ever get underway.
Concerns have been raised about potential projects that would see apartments built on Grass Lake, the corner of Maple Avenue and Victoria Street in Haliburton village, in Glebe Park, and along Hwy. 35 in Minden. Together, along with the Places for People project, it’s estimated these builds could bring well over 200 new rental units.
It’s easy and far too simplistic to suggest these concerns are simple NIMBYism. I’ve spoken to many of these people. For the most part, they’re level-headed and well researched.
Their anxieties surrounding safety and environmental impacts aren’t unfounded.
Still, I feel the need to reiterate that there are people living in our community right now without a home. According to the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation, there are at least 15 families, seven seniors and seven youth without a fixed address in the Highlands, with a further 10 households sleeping outside, in a vehicle or a seasonal trailer.
Michelle Corley, manager of the program, said she’s never seen the situation this bad before. It’s important to note that these aren’t just low-income families. These are working professionals, some of them well paid. I spoke with one family at a recent Places for People fundraiser.
They’re living on one income, but were comfortable as recently as 12 months ago when they were renting a place in Minden.
Now, they’re splitting time between a trailer and a seasonal cottage, after their landlord decided to sell. They have spent months trying to find a more permanent solution, to no avail. I’ve heard stories from nurses who moved from the GTA and promptly left again after finding it impossible to secure suitable accommodation.
The lack of inventory is driving people away, and others outdoors. It’s time for difficult decisions, such as having to choose between giving a person a home, or what’s deemed to be a marginal piece of wetland, or disrupting a property owner’s home comforts, for which there is no decision at all.
Our community is growing.
Ten-year projections suggest we’re going to see an influx of more than 2,000 new residents by 2031. Experts are predicting we’ll need to build around 1,200 new units to meet demand. Our only option is to develop within our urban centres, where new builds can tap into existing infrastructure.
This type of vacant land is scarce, meaning we need to build where we can. We need to stop dragging our feet.
This situation isn’t going to get better on its own. We need municipal leaders to be strong, and our community to be open-minded and accepting of development.