Killaloe – A steering committee to explore next steps to bring affordable housing for all ages to the community was the result of a meeting last week attended by around 40 people.
Eleven people, including municipal representatives, agreed to serve on the steering committee following the May 25 meeting at Lions Hall.
Organizer Ish Theilheimer said he hopes the end result will be affordable housing for a variety of individuals and families that is sustainable, energy efficient and in line with community needs and beliefs.
“It’s not going to be a short-term thing,” he said. “Fairfields’ highly successful project in Eganville took 10 years of hard work, but it was worth it. Housing folks tell me to expect that kind of delay.”
Mr Theilheimer, founder of the Stone Fence Theater and resident of North Algona Wilberforce (NAW) Township, said he believed it was possible to start something regional in Killaloe with local projects to meet the specific needs of the whole county.
“There are influential people in this room with a real track record of achievement,” he said. “So I’m optimistic but also intimidated by the work ahead.
“But many successful community projects have sprung up in this room.”
Many participants spoke about how affordable housing allows people to live in the area.
“We build community by building homes,” said NAW resident Kathy Eisner.
While a housing shortage is often seen as the very visible homelessness on city streets, in the Ottawa Valley, the shortage of affordable housing affects working and middle-class families who no longer have the means to rent, buy or build houses.
The officially accepted definition of affordable housing is housing that represents no more than 30% of your income. When costs are higher, other necessities suffer. This translates into a host of other economic disadvantages. The current labor shortage is partly the result of the housing shortage. Without housing, young people cannot stay in the Valley.
Several factors, including the influx of newcomers during COVID-19, have affected the supply of housing available for sale and rental.
“We need to look at housing as an economic entity,” said local estate agent Pam Ogelsby, adding that the accepted practice of estate agents of “blind bidding” which artificially raises property prices, should be prohibited.
“Our children will never be able to afford to buy a house here,” added Ted Browne, councilor for Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards (KHR).
There was a general consensus that all levels of government need to be involved in creating the kind of mixed housing that works for young families, for the elderly, for the kind of mixed age-diverse groups that naturally make part of the community. KHR Mayor Janice Tiedje and Madawaska Valley Township Chief Sue Klatt commented on the unfair transfer of housing to individual municipalities.
“Municipalities cannot solve this problem on their own,” said Mayor Tiedje, former chairman of the Renfrew County Housing Board.
The Township of NAW is currently conducting a needs assessment of the housing situation in the area. Some of the questions acknowledge the housing insecurity for many people, including the fear of having to move and the ability to pay bills for the foreseeable future. The current review of the county-level planning process and land use designations will open up some solutions, primarily in terms of housing density. Infill housing (i.e. housing that fits into an existing neighborhood) and “grandmother’s apartments” can provide additional housing on existing lots, but there are a number of limiting factors . Some counties have created funds to help landlords create additional housing on their properties, but Renfrew County is not one of them.
Dan Harrington, a Killaloe resident and retired businessman, cited a time when the village had more than a dozen rental properties.
“It’s not rentals anymore,” he noted.
As president of the local food bank, he said he sees the links between unaffordable housing and food insecurity.
The current labor shortage, which is severely affecting local employers, is also partly a consequence of the lack of available and affordable housing.
“We need to attract immigrants to compensate for the children we no longer have,” said Round Lake resident Judy Martin.
Currently, the federal government has money available for affordable housing projects, although there are many steps needed to get to the point of being “shovel ready”. CMHC – Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation – also offers funding programs in the form of grants and loans to help get a co-op project started, but sources of local capital are also needed.
The issue of the lack of affordable and accessible housing was also discussed at the Renfrew County Council meeting earlier today in Pembroke. In her remarks, Warden Debbie Robinson noted how, at a recent session of the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus (EOWC) in Pembroke, Mayor Robin Jones, President of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA ), made a presentation on the subject.
“Housing is a priority across the province and certainly for Renfrew County,” said Warden Robinson. “And the lobbying of AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario), ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipalities of Ontario), Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (WOWC) and Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) continues seriously in preparation for the delegation. meeting at the AMO conference in August.
Director Robinson said that although the EOWC has three priorities, it is currently focusing its energies on housing.
“We are preparing to provide insight to the newly elected provincial government on Eastern Ontario’s housing needs, as well as potential solutions,” she explained.
Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader