Housing crisis a result of under-building for decades says Mayor

Following the presentation to Council at Monday’s meeting (Jan. 29th) by Habitat for Humanity, the issue of affordable housing in Saugeen Shores continued with a presentation by Mark Havitz of ‘United Housing for All’.

United Housing for All (UHFA) team was formed in 2021 by the Port Elgin United Church and Southampton United Church joining together in response to the Town’s work around the affordable and attainable housing crisis that the community of Saugeen Shores is facing.

In his presentation on Monday, Havitz commended Council saying that it had created a positive impact over time through various means, including:

  • amending by-laws to encourage housing construction
  • contributing Town funds and forging subsidized rental agreements to provide immediate short-term relief for a dozen residents in 2023
  • doubling the subsidized budget for 2024

“These and other efforts are praiseworthy and, over time, have positive impact. UHFA will continue lending pro-affordable housing advocacy voices moving forward,” said Havitz.

He also pointed out however, “… much remains to be done, especially regarding the affordability component of the attainability spectrum. In fact, evidence suggests that we are still losing the affordable housing battle.”

In his presentation, he pointed out that “… data compiled last month for the November 6th Housing Crisis public forum, suggests that Saugeen Shores affordability crisis has deepened rather than abated in the nearly three years since release of the Task Force report.”

In 2022, of the 922 on the waitlist in Bruce County, only 51, or under six per cent, found housing.  Since then, in 2023, the list grew by 171 applicants to 1,093 with 549 (or more than half) from Saugeen Shores. Of those listed: 237 are single adults, 91 are older adults, and 221 are families.

Under CMHC (Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp.) affordable housing definition, “… no more than 30% of a household’s gross, pre-tax income” should be spent on rent.  In Saugeen Shores, over 45% of renters spend more than 30% of their gross income on rent with 18% of renters spending more than 50% of their gross income on rent, and some up to 75%.

Havitz pointing to Habitat for Humanit, said that models like those already in place in several Ontario municipalities will go a long way to reducing Saugeen Shores’ affordable housing backlog.

At the conclusion of his presentation, two questions were asked:

  • “Will Town Council, immediately upon approval of its Affordable Housing on Town-Owned Lands Policy, designate one or more parcels of surplus land for construction of affordable medium to high-density housing partnerships?
  • Will Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) be forthcoming as soon as practicable thereafter?”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that Council and staff are working diligently on answers to the questions and may be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

Vice-deputy Mike Myatt said that, instead of NIMBYism, “it should be Yes, in my backyard.  These people who move into Habitat homes or affordable housing are the same people who might be serving you a cup of coffee in a restaurant or working in our stores and there is help needed out there in our community.  The word crisis has been used in Saugeen Shores and across Canada to do with housing.”

Havitz, also a Habitate volunteer, said that a high percentage of the 2,000 Habitat volunteers come from Saugeen Shores and that he is often asked by people, “When are we going to have a build here in Saugeen Shores?”

Myatt said there are several parts of the puzzle including the housing subsidy supported by Council, Habitat for Humanity and other solutions.

“This Council and staff are really in gear working on solutions now,” said Councillor Bud Halpin. “Staff has declared land surplus, has set aside land for the 3P partnerships for attainable housing, land for a possible Bruce County housing geared to income rental build so there are many facets and areas where we are moving forward on this.”  He added once again, that Saugeen Shores is in a unique position with land, partners and a staff and Council that appear to be unison working toward solutions.

Deputy Mayor Diane Huber said one of the points in the presentation was “goals and education”. “I think every time you present to us it is encouraging for every resident to feel that they can play a role in this as it’s about understanding the problem and understanding the issue and contributing to the ‘positive talk’ about it all.  I think every time this comes up I hope developers are listening too for an understanding that there is a market available to them too to contribute to the solution. There are lots of people who would be interested in specific kinds of builds if they were interested in entertaining those kinds of builds. Information and education goes a long way to distilling the whole conversation in the community and I think there is a willingness around this table this term to really accomplish something and it’s rolling along in a very positive direction.”

Havitz said that has clearly been “a supply imbalance for rental units in the town” and that the market will eventually correct itself.  While sympathetic to property owners and those who have made investments, he is also sympathetic to those who cannot afford housing.  “I think the system (particularly in western countries) has gotten out of whack.  As a volunteer with Habitat, we started out building 10,000 homes and are now up to seven million with a vision of eradicating poverty housing. Our group is also inviting developers or property owners to help educate us to learn more about ownership from their point of view.

Havitz was responding to Councillor Dave Myette who pointed out that for a landlord it was difficult to provide rent for less than the carrying costs of a unit. “It’s a very complex global issue.  There is also the B&Bs for short-term rentals.”  Myette said that having looked at stats on Monday, “There are 350 B&B short-term rentals currently in Saugeen Shores. That’s cottages, units, apartments that are sitting potentially vacant and, before that phenomenon came along they would have been on the rental market. Given the demographics of baby-boomers and others, there is a market for the $500 a night that globally has put us in this situation.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that this (housing) is of significant concern to Council and staff.  “We probably talk about this as much as United Housing for All and it’s a matter we have been seized with for a number of years. We have issued building permits for 800 rental units and several more that should come under construction in the Spring.”

The Mayor added that there has been chronic under-building for housing in this country for decades.  “We’ve now reached a point where, because of things like Covid and other pressures, it’s come to a head but we are trying to turn that ship around.  We have some things we can do at the local level and Saugeen Shores is willing to do just about anything we can do and that’s within our authority to move housing forward, and we’ve done a lot of things. We are now looking at the Community Premit Planning System to almost completely up-end our planning regime in order to encourage housing at a faster rate.”

He also pointed out that the town can make use of surplus lands but that there are other “slices of the pie”.  “I just came from Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference and it (housing) is a hot topic among municipalities everywhere in Ontario.  The big question was ‘what roles do other levels of government have to play?’ and there is a role that they have to play.  This is a national issue which tells me it requires a national solution and what we need is money, primarily from the Federal government and the Provincial government focused on building housing … social housing, geared to income housing and affordable housing across the country.  It’s a good investment for the Federal government to make because it will be ‘deflationary’ in nature. Instead of putting cash in people’s pockets, building houses is a smart investment. Those levels of government are not there yet in terms of how much money they should be spending on this and the help that we need.”

“Let’s not forget that we rely so much on the private sector to build housing when interest rates are very high and their ability to go to banks and get loans is diminished significantly,” the Mayor pointed out. “So, if we are going to get construction projects off the ground in a rate we need, we are going to have to put money out and build – it’s a smart investment and the Feds and the Province should be making it.  In the meantime, the town is going to continue to do everything in our regulatory space and land use authority to move this forward as best we can and to house as many people as we possibly can in our community.  Advocacy helps us in our work and the whole community get its  mind around how we are going to solve this problem?