Local group eyes former Markdale hospital for affordable housing

A newly formed community group is eyeing the former Markdale Hospital site as a potential location for affordable housing.

Reid Dennison, of Affordable Housing in Grey Highlands, made a presentation about the group’s plans and initiatives at the Grey Highlands council meeting on June 19. Dennison said the group formed over the past year to try and solve the affordable housing crisis in the municipality.

“Our mission is to build permanent affordable, non-profit rental or co-op housing,” Dennison said.

The group has been researching the housing crisis locally and has found that almost half of Markdale households, at their current levels of income, would be unable to afford current market rental rates.

“Let that sink in,” Dennison noted. “There is pretty clearly unmet demand for genuinely affordable rentals in Grey Highlands. You only need to speak with any of our employers, large or small.”

Dennison said his group is looking at a plan to form a land trust to acquire properties that could be used to construct affordable housing that would remain affordable forever. He said they have identified five publicly owned sites in Markdale that have potential: the former hospital site, the old Beavercrest school building (once the new school is finished), two sites in downtown Markdale and a parking area owned by Grey County.

“We would like to explore with you the use of a land trust so that any non-profit housing built on these lands would remain so in perpetuity,” said Dennison. “This has been done in many Ontario communities over the years. There are models and resources we are drawing on for Grey Highlands.”

Dennison asked that council support the group by: advocating for the transfer of the former hospital site to Grey County or Grey Highlands, waiving of fees (development charges, planning and building) for any projects that go forward, assist and advocate for loans/grants with higher levels of government and explore with them how a land trust would work/function.

“A project like this can only succeed with the full backing of the municipality and its people,” said Dennison.

Members of council were supportive of the requests. In a 5-1 vote, council agreed to receive the presentation and request a staff report about the group’s requests. Coun. Dan Wickens was the lone opposing vote and Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen was absent.

“We all know that affordable housing is a crisis in this country,” said coun. Nadia Dubyk. “All orders of government need to be addressing this.

Mayor Paul McQueen said he has had conversations with leadership at Brightshores Health System about the future of the former Markdale Hospital. He said the hospital corporation is currently going through an assessment of the former hospital site.

“That’s a real interesting piece of the downtown that we want to keep our finger on very closely,” he said.

Coun. Joel Loughead thanked Dennison and the affordable housing group for their efforts.

“You clearly have put in a lot of work to solve a very complicated problem,” said Loughead.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca