By John Pankhurst
For some time now, North Grenville has been doing well. The local economy continues to grow, with an unemployment rate that is well below provincial and national rates. But can the prosperity be expected to continue? A look at the municipality’s population profile will offer some clues.
North Grenville’s profile doesn’t look quite as good as the country’s. Not only do more Boomers (those aged 50 to 69 in 2014) live here, but also fewer Millennials (those aged 15 to 34 in 2014) do. North Grenville has a bit of a bulge in the way its population is distributed.
Boomers across Canada are approaching retirement age and starting to withdraw from the workforce. At the same time, Millennials are staying in school considerably longer than previous generations ever did, and have been slow to enter the workforce. As a result, the Canadian workforce will soon begin to shrink.
In North Grenville the contraction may be more severe. A smaller proportion of Millennials live here to pick up the slack in the local economy as farmers, business owners and employees retire or cut back their activity. Worse, in the coming years the population profile of North Grenville will compare less and less favourably with the nation’s. In Canada, the Millennial cohort will grow in size because many newcomers to the country are young. But most immigrants settle in the big cities; few will come here.
Yet Millennials are on the threshold of becoming the biggest group of consumers in the national economy. According to Doug Norris, Chief Demographer of Environics Analytics, by 2025 there will be more Millennial than Boomer households. While Boomers in retirement will be trimming their lifestyles and spending less, Millennials, as they advance in their careers and raise families, will be spending proportionately more as a group – and there will be more of them.
Here are some key facts about the Millennial generation:
● About a quarter of Millennials are members of a visible minority, about one-third of whom are second-generation Canadians.
● They have high levels of post-secondary education: according to Norris, “they will be the most educated generation yet.”
● They seek successful careers in work that is, at the same time, personally fulfilling. They set the bar in their lives very high. They are “more optimistic than other generations,” says Norris.
● They show financial discipline in the face of high debt (e.g., student loans) and expenditures (e.g., childcare costs). They are still getting on their feet financially.
● Many prefer to live in or close to a town centre.
North Grenville should be competing vigorously for its share of Canada’s growing Millennial population. Attracting more Millennials will expand the local workforce and consumer marketplace, rejuvenate the local population structure and bring a fresh infusion of energy, ideas and knowledge to the municipality.
How can North Grenville go about attracting the key Millennial group? …By building some affordable housing!
Affordable housing will find appeal among Millennials aiming to establish a sound financial footing. North Grenville has two comparative advantages it can offer them. Its relatively low property taxes can be passed on as lower house prices and it is a commuter hub for Ottawa-Gatineau, Brockville, North Dundas, etc. But an outsized 87% of North Grenville households live in single detached houses, according to the 2011 census. This compared with 55% nationally. Most of these homes are big and expensive.
Affordable housing should not be confused with “social” housing, where rents are fixed by a government agency. When a market-based mortgage or rent is less than about 30% of a household’s total after-tax income, it is considered “affordable”.
North Grenville should fully exploit its comparative advantages by tapping into the huge Canada-wide demand for affordable housing from Millennials, middle- and lower-income employees, downsizing Boomers, etc. A village of small houses is currently being planned for North Grenville (see the January 20 NG Times article). These are very affordable 1,000 sq.ft. single detached houses. Local not-for-profit developer Rob Lunan gives the following costs based on his estimated $179,000 selling price of a house: Down payment: $8,950. Monthly mortgage: $762 (based on a 2.5% rate over 25 years). Rent to own: $1200 per month, dropping to $762 once the downpayment has been paid off and credit established. “Nobody should be a slave to an unaffordable mortgage!” says Rob.
To achieve his target selling price, Rob says he must be able to buy serviced or serviceable land in the municipality at a moderate price. But no such land is currently available.
Federal, provincial and municipal governments have a role to play in such situations. They can provide and distribute funding for infrastructure items such as water and sewage lines in key locations, for example.
A portion of any new infrastructure spending should be tied to affordable housing projects so that their developers cannot be outbid for the serviced land by for-profit housing developers or speculators. With federal funding, the municipality of North Grenville could also buy land, service it, and call for tenders on its development from builders of non-profit housing.
In addition there are smaller-scale actions the municipality can, in partnership with other government entities, community groups and housing developers, undertake to support affordable housing. Two ideas are:
1. It can offer childcare services. A daycare centre might be located in the town centre of Kemptville, where commercial rents are low. This will also bring shoppers to the main street.
2. It can promote and support an adequate bus service in the region. Also, it can facilitate the operation of any shuttle bus services housing developers offer.
It may be objected that, if affordable housing is built locally, there will be an influx of strangers which will alter North Grenville’s small-town atmosphere. Perhaps. But would that be worse than letting the local economy stagnate?
One innovative project is not enough. Expanding North Grenville’s stock of affordable housing will be an investment in human capital that can do much to secure the community’s long-term prosperity.