Small houses – big ideas

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It’s interesting – and exciting – when you see a pattern emerging.

Last week, a fellow by the name of Kevin Taylor made an appearance at a Highlands East council meeting.

He talked about the prospect of something called ‘little blue cabins’ potentially coming to Bancroft and surrounding communities in future.
The fact his presentation was during the same week a report said Bancroft had the fastest growing housing prices in Canada was not lost on me. And coming to Highlands East meant he also thought the concept could work in Wilberforce and maybe Cardiff and Harcourt.

Taylor discussed how mental illness, addiction or substance use, and unemployment all lead to homelessness.

Trent University student Ellen Buck-McFayden looked into chronically homeless people in Bancroft, finding about 20 folks, most high school dropouts, who had experienced past trauma, and lacked supports. Most were long-time residents, former classmates and neighbours, who had not had a lot of opportunities in life.

It was also found that while a small number, these people were a mighty drain on health care and OPP, and fell through that crack between the province and township.

Just like in Haliburton, they’ve hosted homelessness summits. In 2023, the province’s minister of mental health and addictions attended, along with the MPP and mayor. Perhaps more politically-motivated than their Highlands counterparts, “another” more than $6M was pledged to Hastings County to address homelessness.

That’s where the idea of 20 sleeping cabins came about. Measuring eight by 16-feet, they have two windows and a door, microwave, mini-fridge, heater, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, a bed, desk, chair, and wardrobe. They are attached to a larger community building with kitchen, laundry, showers, washrooms, office and meeting rooms. They have access to professionals, whether medical, social, or jobs and training.

This isn’t new. The folks in Bancroft had studied models in Kingston, Kitchener, Hamilton, Calgary and throughout the U.S.

A model with 20 units could cost $1.5 M for site development and servicing, community building and cabins, and landscaping. It could cost another $400,000 a year to operate. For once, a price-tag for affordable housing like this did not floor me.

Also last week, there was a story in the Toronto Star by Joelle Kovach titled ‘Modular cabins to end homelessness: How this Ontario city’s project is succeeding.’

Peterborough council took some flack but had the guts to install 50 small modular cabins in the Rehill parking lot. It’s early days, but so far so good. They did it in an amazing six-month period, ending homelessness for 50 residents. That’s huge. It’s costly, too, naturally, at $2.4M to build and $1.9M in annual costs. But politicians reckon it’s saving costs in other areas.

On March 23, meanwhile, Sean Campbell, executive director of Union Cooperative in Kitchener-Waterloo, will serve as the U-Links celebration of research keynote speaker. He’ll discuss ways to bring innovative housing projects to small communities. It’s an important topic, with U-Links recently partnering with local residents Fay Martin, Fay Wilkinson, and Dave Wilfong, and grad students from Trent, to look into housing alternatives for Haliburton County. Results of that project will be available in the fall.

We urge County, and all other politicians to check out the Highlands East delegation, read about Peterborough’s success story, attend Places for People’s Sleeping in Cars event at Head Lake Park March 22, and attend the celebration of research. It’s time for a made-in-Haliburton solution to housing and homelessness, and the need for worker accommodation.