An action plan from the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association (ROMA) could influence provincial decisions impacting Haliburton County’s housing stock, workforce and development possibilities.
Released Jan. 24, Opportunities for Rural Ontario in a Post-COVID World is an 84-page “action plan” that digs into five themes they say are shaping life in rural Ontario.
“It’s kind of like a strategy plan,” said Coun. Pam Sayne of Minden Hills, who sits on the board.
“It’s where we can stay on one page, and stay focused on what we want to accomplish based on what the ROMA mandate is.”
The five themes include digital connectivity, housing affordability, access to services, workforce development and efficient growth of rural areas.
They emerged after consultation with municipal leaders and stakeholders across the province, who listed each theme as a key concern.
The report acknowledges that these themes are interdependent. For example, workforce development hinges on housing affordability. In the Highlands, some restaurants and Haliburton Highlands Health Services have cited housing as a barrier to finding sufficient staff.
Beyond laying out themes, ROMA said it will “engage with municipalities, the province and key stakeholders” to implement 23 recommendations.
For example, ROMA plans to “advocate with the province for review of the Provincial Policy Statement… to ensure that the legitimate development aspirations of rural Ontario are not constrained by outmoded views of the economic and social potential of rural Ontario.”
That could result in a push towards mixed-use developments in villages such as Minden or Haliburton, alongside a rethink of municipal zoning restrictions that don’t permit tiny homes or basement suites.
ROMA can’t create provincial policies. But similar to a municipal committee advising council members, ROMA has the ear of provincial and municipal leaders. Multiple mayors and County council members attended the ROMA annual conference when the action plan was presented, and Premier Doug Ford spoke at the virtual event.
A ‘breath of fresh air’
Sayne said short-term rentals have been an “increasing problem” in Haliburton County that she’s eager to work with the ROMA board on.
Specifically, she said addressing shortterm rentals also means addressing a County-wide affordable housing shortage.
ROMA’s action plan states that members could offer insight “on the ripple effects of the forces affecting urban housing markets on rural housing markets.”
Sayne said short-term rentals are tied up with housing stock in the County, when it’s profitable to sell houses or rent them on sites such as Airbnb instead of hosting tenants.
“New families and seniors are losing their housing,” she said. “People have a rental place and all of a sudden when the housing market changed and they could sell off that asset and still be comfortable for retirement, we lost the housing stock in that process.”
She said solutions could include changing zoning and building policies, likely through research and advocacy on the part of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, an umbrella association which includes ROMA.
Since joining the board, Sayne said it’s been “a breath of fresh air” to work alongside other municipal representatives across Ontario advocating for issues that will impact Minden Hills.
The ROMA board represents a wide variety of rural regions. Sayne said collaboration increases the likelihood they’ll be able to find solutions.
“When that happens you have a stronger analysis of what’s going on.”
ROMA is hosting a “teeny-tiny summit” March 22 that’s open to the public, where speakers will chat about the report’s findings.
To register: roma.on.ca/learning/events/ teeny-tiny-summit-1v
To read the action plan visit roma.on.ca