High rents and real estate costs are hurting some local residents, Southgate council hears

·4 min read

A delegation about “astronomical” local housing costs and the need for attainable housing found Southgate council members quick to agree with the concern.

Muriel Scott and Gerry McNalty spoke to council last about concerns for attainable housing at last Wednesday’s council meeting.

They’re part of the Dundalk Food Bank and Christmas Cheer, which serves people in the Dundalk and district.

RENT OR GROCERIES

They have met people who’ve been forced to use the food bank because of a choice between paying rent and buying food. That includes families where both people are working, and at more than minimum-wage jobs.

Both presenters have backgrounds in housing, Mr. McNalty with South East Grey Support Services, and Ms Scott during her four-decade career with the Salvation Army social services in Toronto before retiring back to Dundalk.

A small group from the food bank has been talking for the last few months with people in different agencies, trying to get a picture of what might be done to make small changes locally.

“We’re not here to step on toes or challenge anything that’s being done,” said Mr. McNalty at the end of the presentation.

But the group did ask for council to endorse a task force to look at local options for projects and planning approaches that have worked elsewhere and other issues.

While there was no specific discussion about a task force, Mayor John Woodbury said that there needs to be further discussion. “We need the community involved in things we do so we have a broader understanding,” he said.

PRIORITY RECOGNIZED

Planner Clint Stredwick said the group gave “a great list” of suggestions for changes to municipal rules that would help increase density and provide smaller, more attainable units.

He said that priority should be kept in mind during the upcoming review of the Official Plan, and that he can do more research.

Developers should be encouraged to build rental units, he added, mentioning the 80-unit building that Flato is putting up off Rowe’s Lane. It’s a problem of supply, he said, if the market is flooded the price will go down – “but we’re a long way from doing that.”

Coun. Jason Rice said that developers want to do what makes money, and wondered out loud about how council could influence that.

Coun. Michael Sherson said he sees the frustration among young people who want to live independently and want to stay in their home area, but can’t find anything affordable.

And at the same time, presenters said, retirees who still have much to give to the community also are leaving because there’s nothing suitable.

About housing and rent increases, Coun. Sherson commented, “our wages have not gone up in this area to pay for this. We have to work together – that’s my thought.”

UNUSUAL MARKET

Coun. Barbara Dobreen commented that it was an exceptional time in the real estate market.

But she added that council wanted to do “whatever we can do to encourage attainable smaller homes for all.”

“We want to keep our residents with us, we don’t want them to have to move out.”

Coun. Martin Shipston commented that any spare land owned by local government should be looked at to see if development including attainable housing can be encouraged.

“There’s a market for this, too,” he said, saying that developers should be made to look at doing the whole range of housing. “There’s definitely a need.”

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS

He noted that at the same meeting they got news of a new modular housing business opening in town that addresses quicker builds of more affordable homes. That might be a good source to turn to, he said, and it will also address local jobs, as commuting on top of rent is another budget problem for families.

On the positive side, Mayor John Woodbury pointed to townhouses that are coming on the market locally.

Mayor Brian Milne mentioned that there is $1.7 million coming to the county from the province in COVID-19 funding for social services, part of which will help with rental arrears and short-term emergency accommodations.

Grey County council itself is putting one percent of the levy this year aside for affordable housing, which is in the rent-gear-to-income range for the lowest income levels.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald