Leading by example

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I admit, I was a little blown away this week when, while chatting with the soon-to-be new owners of the Tim Hortons franchises in Haliburton and Minden, they nonchalantly revealed they’re providing affordable housing for 30 employees living in the community.

I had put in a call Tuesday morning to do a short preview on Tim’s smile cookie campaign, which runs April 29 to May 5 and will see all proceeds raised through local sales of the $2 treat donated to Volunteer Dental Outreach. Five minutes later, I had a much bigger story.

Paige Chapman and Mike Garland moved to the Highlands from Saint John, New Brunswick a year ago. They knew nothing about the community, moving here sight unseen.

A few months later, and the pair arguably lay claim to being the second largest provider of affordable accommodations in the region, behind the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation.

They’re taking over three properties purchased by the franchises’ previous ownership and have added two more. Garland said they hope to have 10 properties to house staff eventually – five each in Minden and Haliburton.

Having seen organizations like Places for People struggle to significantly bolster its housing inventory in recent years, and many County business owners complaining about a depleted local labour force, it’s refreshing to see Chapman and Garland grab the bull by the proverbial horns. Their efforts, I feel, deserve to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops.

Chapman said one of the first things she did after striking a deal for the Tim Hortons locations was get together with her future employees, to get to know them. Find out what makes them tick. Learn about their struggles.

Coming from New Brunswick, where Chapman said mortgage payments on a new home run hundreds – not thousands – of dollars, she admitted to being perplexed when seeing how high rents run in the Highlands.

The pair offer rooms to employees at less than half market rate. Chapman said she feels it’s important her staff still have enough money left over to live comfortably. Rooms are furnished, so lodgers don’t have to worry about paying for beds, dressers, and the like.

Obviously, not everyone can do this. It takes a significant amount of financial muscle to purchase this much property all at once. Clearly, Chapman and Garland have the capital. But for them to invest so heavily in a community they’re still getting to know is extremely commendable.

The couple is providing the blueprint for how to simultaneously address worker shortage and housing affordability problems. They’re leading by example.

There are a lot of wealthy people who call Haliburton County home. Even more who own property here and visit on occasion. Imagine the good that could be done if a few of those with hefty bank accounts followed Chapman and Garland’s lead.

Maybe Haliburton County’s housing problem wouldn’t be much of a housing problem anymore.