Taking aim at affordable housing


By Josh Howald

The future of affordable housing in Bruce County was being mapped out last Tuesday morning in Kincardine.

A public housing forum was held at the Kincardine Beach Pavilion to discuss the long-term affordable housing plan to be presented to social services, a committee of County Council, on Sept. 16.

Susan Earle of Bruce County Housing Services, was pleased with both the turnout and the response at the meeting, hosted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC), the County of Bruce and the Municipality of Kincardine.

“We heard lots of good ideas,” she said Friday morning. “We’re not yet sure what we will get into the final draft, but I think our ideas were well supported (by the crowd, which included housing professionals, politicians and interested residents).”

Earle said one thing that was solidified was the realization of a real need for supports for people who need assistance. That is true not just for people facing physical and mental challenges, but also seniors. Studies show that the population is aging quickly, and the number of fixed income elderly will continue to increase in coming years.

From the forum, Earle also came to the realization that Housing Services needs to communicate more with local contractors and developers.

“We need to see what we can do to encourage contractors to build diverse housing, not just single family  homes,” she said.

One developer who was in attendance was David Brown of Meat Consultant International Inc. Brown is behind the Ripley Square development, and spoke of the tremendous support he received from both the residents of Huron-Kinloss and the municipality itself.

Earle is hoping to take a 10-year plan to county council. The plan is to provide a clear vision to guide Bruce County Housing Services for years to come. This study began in 2005, and was updated in 2008. The housing strategy has been updated again, and should be ready before summer’s end.

Six clear housing issues were outlined at the forum, broken down from 11 originally. The first is the issue of the aging population, followed by employment trends that influence demand for affordable housing. For example, how Bruce Power affects the housing market, as well as other industries like retail.

The third point was that new housing stock is concentrated, and not diverse.

“Ninety five per cent of new homes being built in Bruce County are single family homes,” said Earle.

Maintaining existing stock is also a challenge, she said. There are many older homes in the area, which may provide housing at a lower cost. However, there is also the aspect of people living in unsafe and outdated homes.

Affordability is a huge issue in Bruce County. Too many people are unable to buy their first home (the County has already added some incentives to make this process easier), and too many people are putting more than 30 per cent of their income into housing.

The sixth issue to be identified was the availability of support services and the special needs housing.

“While we have several group homes, some people need to be on their own living independently. What we do have isn’t adequate to local needs.”

Following presentations from Earle, Brown and Brian Cleaver of the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey, three roundtable discussions were held at the forum. The next step in this project is to present the long-term goals to County Council.

“We’ll be busy to get that done in time, and hopefully it will be passed,” said Earle. “From that point, it’s a matter of implementing new policies.”