by Deron Johnston
When she made her inaugural speech at the swearing-in ceremony of the new North Grenville Municipal Council on December 3, 2018, newly elected North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford announced that she was going to be creating a Taskforce On Affordable Housing that would analyze the current situation and then make recommendations on how to improve the lack of affordable housing in North Grenville.
With the support of her council colleagues, she began work almost immediately to take this initiative from mere words to build a strong, diverse and caring group that would closely examine the situation. Having heard from a number of residents on the campaign trail who claimed they were on a years-long waiting list to access affordable housing in Kemptville, Mayor Peckford felt compelled to take action, and wanted to reach out to the community to populate the taskforce. She believed that North Grenville had a wealth of knowledgeable, experienced and passionate people who could contribute substantially to discussions.
Affordable housing is often technically called “rent-geared-to-income”, and “social housing”. For residents of North Grenville, these programs are managed by the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville (UCLG) which oversees them for a total of thirteen municipalities, including North Grenville, Brockville, Prescott and Gananoque. According to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which sets the standard for the definition of housing affordability, housing should cost no more than 30% of a person’s income. With the rising price of property in North Grenville, and a scarcity of rental properties (meaning no competition that would normally help keep market rental prices in check), this has led to the perfect conditions for higher, often unaffordable, rents. This, in turn, creates housing insecurity and homelessness (couch surfing, staying with friends, renting bedrooms in a stranger’s house) with a variety of people, from youth to seniors being affected.
The Taskforce on Affordable Housing roster has been selected from a substantial list of applicants. There were so many applicants, in fact, that Mayor Peckford felt it was important to add a Community Advisory Group to fully take advantage of the diversity of skills and experiences that residents could bring to the table.
Some of those who were eager to serve on the Taskforce contributed their ideas to help shape the detailed terms of reference, reflecting the vision and scope of work for the group. Mayor Peckford felt it was important that the Taskforce’s actions be meaningful, comprehensive and measurable. As part of that philosophy, the Taskforce will only operate for a period of twelve months, in order to help maintain a sense of urgency and efficiency in their work, and to avoid becoming one of those never-ending committees that seemingly never gets anything done. There will be a preliminary report in September and a final report, with full recommendations, in January 2020.
The Taskforce met officially for the first time as a group, along with the Community Advisory Group, on Thursday, February 28, in the Executive Boardroom at the North Grenville Municipal Centre. The meeting was also attended by a number of interested residents. As a matter of fact, more chairs had to be brought into the room so everyone could sit down. It appears that a bigger room will be necessary when these groups meet again, especially if this high level of interest from residents continues.
Co-chairs for the Taskforce are Carl Cannon and Colleen Lynas, who made sure that the meeting ran smoothly from beginning to end. Mayor Peckford spoke first about how important this project was, to her personally, and to the community. She introduced the co-Chairs, who spoke briefly about their experiences and qualifications. The meeting then proceeded as people introduced themselves, and even the residents were given time to say a few words. The room was filled with a diverse group of people, including planners, social workers, military personnel, real estate agents and even landlords.
The Taskforce will operate with minimal costs, as the only real expense will be municipal staff time, and this type of work is already part of their regular paid duties. If solutions can be found to help at least some of our residents get into secure, safe and affordable housing, then the societal and community benefit, compared to any cost, should be welcomed with open arms.