Can we all agree that housing – or lack thereof – is the most pressing issue in Haliburton County at the moment?
And, is there consensus that it’s time to stop talking about it, but rather finding solutions? The Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce issued a call to action to all levels of government late last week.
There’s nothing new here, folks. However, the business community had hoped this summer would offer a return to normal.
They banked on making good money to help recover from COVID-19. They didn’t plan to have the staffing shortages that forced them to work double-time, and in some cases, cut back days and hours of operation.
Traditionally, they make enough money in the summer to pay off those lines of credit they needed to dip into in the late fall, winter and early spring. They don’t have that luxury now. As they stare down the seasonal change, they are facing some unprecedented financial stress, which is causing a very real mental health crisis.
The fall-out could affect this community for decades. It’s a complex topic but there are recurring themes. The federal and provincial governments could always do more. We hear all kinds of housing announcements.
MPP Laurie Scott is always happy to tick off the amounts of money pledged for housing. However, we have yet to see that translate into shovels into ground in Haliburton County. And MP Jamie Schmale is always quick to point out the shortcomings of the federal Liberals on this portfolio, but he hasn’t managed to get shovels in the ground either. Our municipal politicians are ringing their hands.
However, they are at the helm of the very places where change is desperately needed. Our current system of a County and four lower-tier governments is not helping.
Five sets of different official plans and zoning bylaws, for example, provide hurdles, not solutions.
Candidates are talking about the need for tiny homes, for example, but are short on mentioning that no township would allow them under current rules and regulations. So, the County and its townships have to figure out the barriers and eliminate them.
That is not going to happen overnight. At the same time, they have to look at shorter-term solutions for that “crisis response” the chamber is clamouring for. A few years ago, there was a housing forum in the County. It is time for a second one. All players must come back to the table. There have to be hard questions asked, and difficult topics raised.
For example, what needs to be changed locally to allow for trailers to house workers? What has to be altered for smaller homes to be allowed. How can we pave the way so there can be more than one dwelling on a residential lot?
Let’s take it one step further. Where could we find land within serviced areas of townships such as Dysart et al and Minden Hills to build? In an area blessed with so much greenspace, could a portion of Head Lake Park be used for housing? In a changing world, where agriculture is not the local industry it once was, is it time to ask whether part of the Minden fairgrounds, for example, could be converted to housing space?
As residents of this County, we also have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.
Do we live on hundred-acre farms near town that we are no longer farming? Are we planning to sell for millions upon millions of dollars or could we take a fair market price for the sake of our community? Are we living alone in a large house on a large parcel of land and refusing to sell even though it could be to the betterment of our community? Clearly, it’s time for all of us to walk the walk, and no longer talk the talk.