North House pleads for action on affordable housing

·4 min read

The amount you pay on your property varies each year depending on two principal factors: the taxation rates assessed by each of the three taxing entities, and the value of your personal property, as assessed by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, a provincial agency. If you’re unhappy with any of these values, there are avenues of appeal.

Seven years ago, the expansion of residential housing in Uxbridge was severely limited in two ways: the proximity of Greenbelt lands, and the capacity of the local water treatment plant. The price of housing was also reasonable. But seven years later, everything has changed.

“The Greenbelt restrictions still exist,” says Kyle Rainbow, the township’s director of development services, “meaning we’re still pretty much doing infill, but that infill can be much more intensive, because five years ago, Durham Region made improvements to the treatment plant that allow us to increase the town’s population from 11,000 to 15,000. We’re only at about 12,000 now, so there’s room to grow.”

But to grow in what way? To buy a house here now is, for many, almost impossible; even rental prices are high. This means that the composition of the town is changing. Kids that grew up here can’t consider raising their own families in Uxbridge. People in Toronto and the immediate suburbs are fleeing the city in droves, looking for homes even a little less expensive. And they’re finding them here.

There are a number of subdivisions that will be completed in Uxbridge in the next couple of years. They’re being marketed to the upper middle class buyer. There is no range of housing options included. North House is a non-profit organization, founded in 2004, that is dedicated to helping the homeless and those at risk of homelessness in North Durham (Townships of Brock, Scugog and Uxbridge). For the first 15 years, their clients fluctuated between 150-175 per year, but now, with a perfect storm of conditions - including an actual storm - it has created a crisis. North House currently sees a caseload of over 450, with Uxbridge having the highest number of all three townships with 185 people and families needing help. The dilemma of those displaced by the May 21 tornado is a perfect illustration. Some 60 people lost their homes, and many of them found refuge with family or friends. But winter approaches, and it appears that even for those whose homes can be rebuilt (particularly in three apartment buildings near the train station), it will be nearly a year before they can return. Temporary housing, in shelters, hotels or vacant apartments does not exist at any price here, let alone an affordable one.

And homelessness is no longer something that happens somewhere else. It’s not uncommon for tents to be spotted along the trails, in public parks, even in the green space behind a downtown bank. It’s a frequent enough occurrence that township bylaw officers have developed a protocol.

“In 2019, we established a relationship with the township’s bylaw department,” says Mona Emond, executive director of North House. “Because our staff are trained for these situations, we are the first people they call when they get a report of someone living unsheltered. We have access to options that they don’t, in order to help assist the person for the short-term until housing can be found.”

Few of those options are within the township, however, since Uxbridge has no shelter, no hotel, no motel. In late June, North House chairperson Ron Houston appeared before town council, pleading for housing solutions both short and long-term.

“I asked them to consider dedicating one of their township buildings as an emergency shelter,” says Houston, “perhaps a community hall with a kitchen and washroom. On another front, I asked if they would consider requiring a designated number of affordable units in any new development, even perhaps developing a subdivision designated just for tiny homes.”

So far, there’s been no response to those requests, though Houston hopes that affordable housing will become a key issue in the current municipal election. In the meantime, the case numbers at North House keep growing, and winter creeps ever closer.

A group of concerned local organizations, including North House, Uxbridge Cares, St. Paul’s Anglican, St. Andrew's-Chalmers Presbyterian and the Food Bank have formed the Uxbridge Coalition Against Poverty. The goal is to eliminate poverty through advocacy, education and collaboration with the community and government. If you’d like to be involved, an information session is being planned for Oct. 2. Check their Facebook page for more information.

Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos