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Penetanguishene developing plan to address affordable housing crisis

'I worked for Kindred for 40 years. Back then you could afford your own home,' says Penetanguishene senior Gary Ronald
Tim Welch, president of Tim Welch Consulting (TWC) left, Leah Cooke, of TWC, and Penetanguishene resident Gary Ronald view boards at the Nov. 23 Community Improvement Plan: Affordable and Sustainable Housing open house.

The Town of Penetanguishene is developing a plan to boost affordable and energy-efficient housing.

The first step is collecting input from the public through an online survey on Connect Penetanguishene until the end of November.

"It's a snapshot about how our residents live and their experiences," said Andrea Betty, director of planning and community development. 

"Before we start getting into the details - of what incentives, how much money, what it's for - we are opening it up to the community and asking: 'What do you want us to focus on? Where do you think we should be going with this project?'" Betty said.

All the information gathered from two open houses (held Nov. 23) and from the survey will be given to hired consultant Tim Welch of Tim Welch Consulting. He will draft an Affordable and Sustainable Housing Community Improvement Plan (CIP).

In the new year, that plan will be presented to council. If council approves, it will go back to the public for comments, explained Betty.

"We will ask, 'Now what do we think of this plan? Is it what we want? What are the tweaks? What are the changes?" she said.

Then it will go back to council to decide if they want to put money toward it and how it will work.

"How do we fund this? Is our priority on new builds or retrofits? Are we helping developers build new buildings? Are we helping residents create new affordable units in their house. We will probably have a couple of different options," Betty said.

Municipalities are not developers and they have a limited role in housing creation, said Betty, but added something needs to be done.

"We are talking and talking about it and nothing has really happened," she said.

Every level of government needs to create affordable housing incentives because developers are not coming forward offering to build rental housing or affordable housing, said Betty.

In September, the federal government announced the removal of GST on new rental home construction and that is a big help, Betty said.

The one thing municipalities can do is work through an expanded CIP, said Betty.

Welch laid out the town's options at Thursday's open houses at the Penetanguishene Memorial Community Centre.

He said municipal incentives can be combined with provincial and federal incentives to build new affordable housing or renovate and retrofit existing houses to add more living spaces and make them more energy efficient, which lowers the cost of heating and cooling.

Penetanguishene could help projects by providing tax relief, planning and building fee relief, grants or loans.

A senior in the audience asked how these measures would be paid for, saying she doesn't want to be stuck paying more than her share of taxes because others are getting tax relief.

Betty said funds could come from the sale of town-owned land rather than taxation.

Resident Gary Ronald said the town needs more family homes that people can afford to purchase. He said local industries are shutting down because they can't find labour. They can't find labour because there isn't enough housing stock and housing isn't affordable.

"I worked for Kindred for 40 years. Back then, you could afford your own home," he said, pointing out that now his mature children and grown grandchildren struggle to afford family homes and often move back in with him.

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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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