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Places for People looks to possibility in short-term rentals

Amidst all the recent talk about short-term rentals in Haliburton County, the group Places for People has a suggestion that may put a new spin on the issue.

Fay Martin and Roland Lange apprised Algonquin Highlands council during its Feb. 15 meeting of housing successes achieved by Places for People (PFP).

PFP works to provide rental housing to low- to moderate-income households in Haliburton County. They’ve had a presence since 2007 and acquired four properties in the early years.

“We did it by buying and renovating them, renting them, and then fund-raising in order to get the mortgage down to the point where the house was self-sustaining,” Martin said. “And then we would go on to get the next acquisition.”

Mayor Liz Danielsen said she was particularly interested in what part the township could have in managing short-term rentals.

“I think that’s an interesting direction to take,” she said. “And I certainly hope that there’s some success there.

“A lot of the short-term rental owners are suggesting that they have no interest whatsoever in becoming long-term rentals because of the Landlord Tenant Act and the challenges associated with that.”

Martin said the local tenant population is relatively hard to serve, but PFP has made very good progress.

“I think we do know something about selecting and supporting tenants so that it works well for them,” Martin said. “And if it works well for them, it works well for us.”

She said it seems a lot of the push-back about the proposed short-term rental bylaw that’s being considered by the county and its municipalities is centred on people’s income.

“They do need income,” she said. “And there’s lots of space here in this community that is underutilized and there’s lots of people who need housing. So could we put the two of them together in some way?”

In 2018, the group saw that housing needs were increasing significantly quickly, faster than they could keep up.

“So we decided we would go for new builds that were multi-unit,” Martin said. “That we would change our focus from family housing, which is what it had been, because of the nature of the housing stock to small households.

“One- or two-person households because the evidence, as you probably know, is that’s the most dire need in the community.”

It’s something like 68 per cent of households in Haliburton County are two-person households. But so much of the housing stock is geared toward families and have three bedrooms, Martin said.

“We decided we would do something, what we could, to address the small units which, of course, are more affordable,” Martin said.

Part of the change in focus was with the group’s funding formula. Previously, the only government assistance PFP availed of was in the form of rent subsidies. The properties were held to private mortgages or promissory notes.

“Which really attests to how the community cares about how it takes control over what it can to make the world the place they want it to be,” she said.

But mortgages wouldn’t have been conducive to handling millions of dollars in properties. That’s when PFP began looking into community bonds.

Roland Lange, who is also with PFP, said the current housing situation has become a crisis.

“Everybody knows that’s a problem,” he said.

That showed a need for PFP to aim for bigger projects but, since the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate prices have risen incredibly.

“That’s really put us at a disadvantage,” Lange said. “Being a not-for-profit, we don’t have any money. That’s a problem.”

One of the ways to raise money was the sale of community bonds. Lange said they allowed four months to reach their fundraising goal.

It took only three months, he said. That’s a testament to how well the community got behind the effort.

“Now we regret that we didn’t ask for more money because it was very successful and the community really got on board with this,” he said.

The effort managed a $2.5-million market value on a property portfolio book-valued at $1.5 million. Debt from three properties has been cleared, he said. And that puts PFP in a better position to borrow.

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times