by Mayor Nancy Peckford
This past week, several residents in our community were displaced after a small multi-residential building was deemed unsafe due to its very poor condition. The residents had been aware of the state of disrepair but many were reluctant to say anything out of fear of losing their rental housing which unfortunately is in short supply.
This most recent development once again sheds light on the challenges we confront as a community when it comes to access to affordable and attainable housing.
Despite the formidable efforts of members of my Mayor’s Affordable Housing Taskforce that wrapped up in 2020, and a similar Taskforce that I chaired of the 13 Mayors in Leeds and Grenville who comprise the Joint Services Council in 2020-2021, the reality is that progress has been slow.
The pandemic made matters worse as many privately owned rental properties in North Grenville were sold to capitalize on a hot market. This said, in many ways, North Grenville’s housing shortage was a long time in the making given an over-dependence on lower end, privately owned affordable properties and a very small number of publicly managed or subsidized rental units overseen by the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
As a lower tier municipality, North Grenville doesn’t directly oversee or directly fund any housing programs. It is our upper tier government, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, which is responsible for a variety of social services and programs, including paramedics, provincial offences, Ontario works and disability benefits, as well as rent geared to income housing, among other things.
The Government of Ontario provides significant financial support for these areas, and the remaining costs are offset by the taxes we all pay to the upper tier Counties government.
Prior to the amalgamation of the Town of Kemptville and several rural hamlets into the Municipality of North Grenville in 1999, there was very little subsidized housing in this area – apart from a multi-residential apartment in Old Town Kemptville and a few other units made available by private landlords in partnership with the Counties.
For whatever reason, a not-for-profit housing corporation that could have stimulated more affordable rental units in this area was never established. Further, a concentration of provincially funded and managed social housing was established in the City of Brockville and Prescott (all of which was downloaded to the Counties over 25 years ago).
As North Grenville has evolved and grown over the past 25 years, however, we have seen some newer rural and urban subdivisions that – while they provide some wonderful housing options – do not give those in the rental market many additional choices with their focus largely on single detached dwellings.
Nonetheless, North Grenville was known for a long time as being an affordable community for first time home buyers and those seeking larger rural properties at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the pandemic has really changed that and the demand for alternative kinds of housing in a growing community has intensified.
Efforts since 2018 to Bring More Affordable Housing Here
When elected in 2018, it was obvious that housing was top of mind for many. That is why Council moved quickly to follow the Province’s lead and update North Grenville’s planning rules to allow for secondary units (also known as additional dwelling units, ie. granny/in law suites, plus tiny homes). This was done to cut the red tape and eliminate the need for rezoning applications where possible.
The Municipality continues to support more residential infill and intensification and has insisted that private developers include affordability in their housing plans. This has been met with some success, but there are limits to how the private market will deliver on truly affordable, long term housing/rental solutions.
Given this reality, Council also severed a small parcel of land at the edge of the Kemptville Campus for a 15-unit Habitat for Humanity build (one of the largest in the region). Further, in 2022, Council chose to lease the old Kemptville courthouse to the United Counties for conversion into approximately 10 subsidized rental units.
Using some federal/provincial dollars, the United Counties also made a key investment in the Jack Street housing initiative which was championed and led by Community Living North Grenville (in cooperation with Lockwood Bros) in 2018. Around that time, the Counties also purchased a building in downtown Kemptville with 8 subsidized and market rental units.
All of this said, however, of the nearly thousand rental units that are managed or overseen by the United Counites of Leeds and Grenville, less than 75 are in North Grenville. This means that when people are displaced from housing or in urgent need of an affordable rental unit, it is not likely that they will find it here.
While the Government of Ontario, and Minister Clark in particular have worked hard to secure more capital dollars to establish more affordable housing, North Grenville is quite far behind in affordable housing stock, and it will take many, many years to catch up.
In particular, it is clear that the Municipality and Counties need to work together to enhance access to temporary and/or emergency housing across the Counties. Families should not be uprooted and taken away from their places of employment, schools, health providers and other services, support groups and family because available temporary/emergency, affordable and or supportive housing is not available.
This means that without a concerted effort by the Municipality, residents and community leaders in North Grenville and beyond to create more options, whether it is a multi-faith housing initiative, or other not for profit housing, residents whether they are single parents, low income families, seniors and/or anyone who confronts an unexpected housing crisis will have limited options in North Grenville.
Fortunately, the Province and federal government are finding new ways to support smaller communities to stimulate the establishment of more affordable housing, and Council is keen to leverage these opportunities. That is why Council has established a new Housing Advisory Committee to support some creative thinking and relationship building across sectors.
Further, I will continue to work with our government partners at all levels to ensure that North Grenville receives the funding and support we require and urgently need to meet the demands for our community.
I am optimistic that with all hands on deck, we can have a real impact on affordable housing and live up to North Grenville’s reputation as a truly caring and compassionate community.