Modular homes, shared services can assuage housing needs

As if EORN staff didn’t have enough on their plates with the logistics of placing and erecting more than 600 cell towers as part of a $300 million project in eastern Ontario.

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) has been working the last few years to erect towers in an effort to cover gaps in the region’s cellular telephone and internet service.

Big job for a staff of 12 people, right?

Well, Haliburton County council heard May 8 about a number of other tasks taken on by the crowd at EORN.

They’ve been asked by the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Council (EOWC) to work on a more detailed business plan for the 7 in 7+ Regional Housing Plan. There are as many as 14,000 housing units on municipal rental waiting lists throughout eastern Ontario. People wait an average of five years to get into those homes.

And some people have to wait up to 10 years for a rental housing unit.

The EOWC plan is to build at least 7,000 community rental units over seven years throughout the region to whittle down that wait list.

“It was a little more labour intensive than we anticipated it to be,” said EORN’s Jason St. Pierre. “It turned out to be a rather detailed and large document.

“But we are quite proud of the work and the effort that went into that and it’s been well received to date.”

According to EOWC, the 7 in 7+ plan requires partnering with all three levels of government, as well as the private and non-profit sectors and Indigenous communities.

Using a mixed-model approach, the regional housing plan has the added benefit of including an additional 21,000 market rate units, totaling 28,000 housing units.

The implementation of this plan is expected to deliver multi-billion dollar economic benefits and provide housing for the region’s workers, address homelessness, and support those who are looking to own a home.

“This is key to the economic and social stability of our communities and economy,” according to the wardens group.

Associated with the EOWC’s effort is establishing communal services.

EORN and 2B Developments in February secured $1 million in funding to support the localization of communal servicing.

“From the 7 in 7+ plan, we really saw an opportunity to look at municipal lands,” St. Pierre said. “A lot of them are in unserviced areas and this technology would allow for the potential of unlocking some of these rural lands.”

Communal services, also known as shared drinking water and sewage systems, provide water and wastewater treatment to clusters of residences and businesses. They are also be referred to as decentralized systems or cluster systems.

St. Pierre said they’re mobile systems that can accommodate up to 500 housing units. Traditional piping costs about $1,000 per metre to put in the ground.

“They are scalable,” he said. “You can start your Phase 1 (of a subdivision development) at 200 units and add onto that box. So there’s a lot of flexibility in that.”

These systems operate on principles similar to conventional municipal services but without the reliance on a single central facility where municipal water and sewer services are either non-existent or beyond the fiscal capacity of local government.

EORN hopes to provide continued support to Frontenac County, which recently created a Municipal Services Corporation and has pioneered communal servicing in eastern Ontario.

Part of the project is to create a step-by-step guide mirroring the Frontenac model and provide it to other rural municipalities.

EORN has also been working with Transnomis Solutions Inc. on the Permit Central project. That’s a digital road permit platform for governments to streamline the permit process, which will save time and administrative costs.

St. Pierre said the group has been working on that project at the county level in Haliburton.

“We’ve had some discussion with the local Public Works groups as well and continue to support that initiative,” he said.

Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands, asked if EORN will approach the lower tier municipalities as well as the upper tier council.

St. Pierre said information has been drafted but has yet to be approved for distribution.

Councillor Cecil Ryall, Highlands East’s deputy mayor, asked if prefabricated homes have been considered as a compliment to communal services.

“I’m not necessarily meaning trailers,” he said. “I mean factory manufactured (units). The cost of building on site is very expensive.”

Bringing prefabricated housing to the site reduces the time that unit could be occupied, he said.

“What it does is it makes (housing) much more affordable and we’re looking for now is affordable housing that’s readily available in a short period of time,” Ryall said.

“Under the 7 in 7+ business plan that we worked through, we did explore a number of the modular opportunities,” St. Pierre said, and added that the benefits of modular housing was evident after meeting with that industry’s builders.

Coun. Bob Carter, Minden Hills’ mayor, said a major issue with the shared services equipment and housing density will be ground water.

“The limiting factor is going to be how much ground water you can take out to service,” Carter said. “You’ll be able to handle the wastewater. It will just come down to having enough ground water for the number of units you’re going to build.”

“The same water studies need to be done,” St. Pierre said. “The one difference on this is, yes, an aquifer can be used. You can also use lake water. There’s certain level you’re allowed to draw from and that all still needs to be considered.”


James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times