New council to focus on Minden Hills housing deficit

Voters in Minden Hills have assembled a contingent of councillors that will work well with those acclaimed to positions.

Bob Carter represented Ward 1 in the last term. He was acclaimed mayor in August, along with Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell. The other candidate to have been acclaimed to council was Bob Sisson who is Ward 3 councillor.

In the municipal election Oct. 24, Tammy McKelvey emerged victorious in the race with Trevor Chaulk for the councillor-at-large job. She earned 1,843 votes to best Chaulk and the 1,032 ballots in his favour.

Ivan Ingram will replace Carter as Ward 1 councillor after he secured 1,238 votes. Shirley Johannessen won the other Ward 1 councillor seat with 736 votes. That ward has two representatives because of its geographic size.

The other candidates for Ward 1 who fell short were Mike Grozelle, who garnered 707 votes, and Richard Bradley, who managed 521.

Incumbent Pam Sayne beat Stephen Hertel for the title of Ward 2 councillor. Sayne tallied 529 ballots to Hertel’s 263 votes.

Schell, starting her third consecutive term, said the new council is comprised of a good mix of knowledge, experience, and personalities.

“Having a couple members of council who have a lot of municipal experience, I think we’ll be able to hit the ground running,” she said. “There’ll be less of a learning curve for them and I think we’ll be able to get to work on things quickly.”

Carter said there’re many challenges ahead for the new council, but he’s looking forward to getting to work on them.

“I know that housing is a huge issue and it’s something that I’ve been working on for the last number of years,” he said. “And it is our biggest challenge.

“Pretty much all types of housing is needed right now. We have a shortage of complete range, except probably for very expensive cottages along the lakes.”

Both Schell and Carter agree that the lack of housing is at the root of other issues for the municipality.

“It’s effecting us in many ways,” Carter said. “It’s effecting the homelessness rate. It’s effecting the ability of people coming here to work. And it’s probably the biggest challenge we have in the county.”

He said it’s a hurdle that’s shared by municipalities throughout the province.

“But it is specifically a large problem for us here in Haliburton County and in Minden Hills,” he said.

He’s worked on the housing issue through a number of angles. Carter was chairperson of a township housing task force. He’s a director on the boards of the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation and Habitat for Humanity.

The mayor’s office may open a new avenue for him to work to create roofs people can put over their heads.

“To a certain extent, yes,” he said. “It’s a hugely complex issue.”

The main problem, he said, is of economics.

Interest rates on money borrowed from banks have been on the rise. The costs of building materials have gone up for a variety of reasons often associated with the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues.

And the cost of skilled labour has increased.

“So the total cost to build something these days gets it to the point where you cannot service the total amount of money you had to borrow with rents,” he said.

If it cost $350 per square foot to build something, you’re not going to be able to pay for it at an average monthly rent of about $1,600.

“You just can’t afford to pay off the interest, capital, the running costs, and so on with that amount of money,” Carter said. “So it’s very difficult to build anything. That’s true right across the province.”

You’re paying off some of the capital, a lot of the interest, but then there’s taxes, heating, energy costs, and maintenance.

“All those things get to be more than what you can charge in rent,” he said. “Especially at the low end of rentals, it’s very difficult to make a project break even or be able to survive.”

Schell said being able to afford to buy a home isn’t even on the horizon for most young people today. Long gone are the days where one could graduate from college, get a job, and then easily take the next step and buy a home.

“It’s not an option,” she said.

In Schell’s estimation, one of the first tasks for the new council is to fill some vacancies among senior positions at town hall. But there needs to be places for those people to live.

“That’s an ongoing thing, and it’s not just us,” she said. “It’s across the province and the whole country, really. There are some senior positions that we need to get filled. And there’s the usual things. There’s housing, roads. So much stuff.”

She sees difficult times borne of tough decisions ahead for all municipalities across Ontario.

“People who run and say, ‘I’m going to get all the roads fixed in the municipality and we’re not going to raise taxes.’ Those days are over,” Schell said. “There’s no money trickling down from the province or the feds like it used to.

“Small municipalities like ours are going to be on the hook for the full cost of anything that will and needs to be done.”

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times