Mayor seeks affordability in fast growing community

·3 min read

Like many communities in Middlesex, Strathroy-Caradoc is growing. And in the last couple years, it has started growing quickly.

Mayor Joanne Vanderheyden put some 2021 numbers to that in her annual interview: 490 permit applications, $77.9 million in construction value, 169 new home permits, and 98 written reports to council from the planning department.

“That’s huge for a small community,” said Vanderheyden.

With all this growth comes more amenities. The fairgrounds in Strathroy alone are getting beach volleyball, an all wheels park, and a full size basketball court.

But costs also come with growth, and affordability is more of an issue. Vanderheyden said funding for affordable housing has been applied for twice, both unsuccessfully.

“A lot of times it seems like the bigger cities get that funding, but we’re working on making sure that there is a rural lens out there,” said Vanderheyden.

She added that a lot of her work as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities goes to having the fact small urban and rural communities have the same issues as larger centres, just on a different scale.

“So if we can put 30 units in an apartment building, that to us is fantastic,” said Vanderheyden.

Bidding wars for the housing that is in Strathroy and Mount Brydges is a reality driving up cost of living as well. More stock is coming, but Vanderheyden said denser neighbourhoods are part of the solution, too.

“We don’t want to use more agriculture land,” said Vanderheyden.

Apartments, row housing and planning to include schools and parks are a big part of the official community planning to be completed this year.

“It’s not just people coming in and saying I want to do single-family homes because that’s where I make my money,” said Vanderheyden.

Financing for implementing any plans is an issue that requires provincial and federal help said the mayor.

“We have 21st century issues to deal with, with 19th century tools. We only have user fees and property tax, so we need partners,” said Vanderheyden.

An area according to the mayor that could use more people living in it is downtown Strathroy, whether in apartment buildings or over businesses.

“They’re more likely to be downtown all the time. They’ll go to the restaurants,” said Vanderheyden.

Roads are important to get people to areas like downtown, but livability, recreation and walkability are other things that come into play said the mayor.

“It’s a huge, huge job and I know sometimes people who run for council when they come to council they think it’s going to be real easy, but it’s like drinking from a fire hose. There are so many issues we have to deal with and make sure are on point,” said the mayor.

While the last two years have been challenging, Vanderheyden believes there are advantages to having an online council. While people do like to gather, how the public can participate during online discussions is one example.

“Every single person who wants to speak at a planning meeting now has the opportunity to speak on the screen. When we met in person, quite often when we had a meeting the council chambers would be full and one or two people would take over the mic and talk for everyone,” said Vanderheyden.

“Well then you’re not really getting your voice heard because the loudest people usually got their voice heard. Now everyone has an opportunity.”

Vanderheyden plans on seeking a fourth term as mayor. She previously served four terms as deputy mayor and one as councillor.

“My parents are immigrants from the Netherlands and when I was young all I kept hearing was give back to the community that gave us opportunity,” explained Vanderheyden on her choice of profession.

Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner

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