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Council paves way for 'clear pathway' to more affordable housing

'Our housing crisis is anything but simple. We know it's complex, and it's inherently messy,' says official in outlining 21 action items meant to address the crisis

After months in development, city council has endorsed an affordable housing action plan in an effort to increase housing affordability in Orillia in the coming years.

Janette McGee, the city's affordable housing coordinator, presented the 2023 Affordable Housing Action Plan to city politicians at a special meeting of council on Wednesday at the Orillia Opera House.

“In our plan, what we’re mainly looking to do is look at ways to increase the supply of affordable housing,” McGee said. “This plan will equip staff with a clear, logical plan around how we're going to increase the supply and … ways to increase new investment in affordable housing. This clear pathway will lead to positive housing outcomes.”

The plan includes 21 action items, with the aim of increasing affordable ownership and rental housing options for people who are unable to afford current market rentals and home sale prices, but do not qualify for various housing services and subsidies provided by the County of Simcoe.

The items are ranked on an immediate-term (under two years), medium-term (two-five years), and long-term (five-ten year basis), including ways to utilize grants and incentives, policy, property and site development, and capacity building and collaboration to increase housing affordability.

Some of the action items are as follows:

  • Investigate the possibility of a rent subsidy investment fund for city residents, at a city commitment of up to $100,000 per year;
  • Develop a council-approved policy to provide tax exemptions for affordable housing providers on municipally-owned property, through a municipal capital facilities bylaw and agreement;
  • Revise city policy to allow lands declared surplus to municipal needs to be dedicated to affordable housing;
  • In partnership with the county, exploring the possibility to establish a youth transition home in Orillia;
  • Create a community endowment and voluntary developer contribution fundraising campaign to raise money for the affordable housing reserve fund;
  • Collaborate with Lakehead University and Georgian College on the potential for coordinated, off-campus student housing units;
  • Explore strategic land purchases for developing affordable housing;
  • Explore the possibility of converting Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital into affordable housing, once a new hospital is in operation.

“Our housing crisis is anything but simple. We know it's complex, and it's inherently messy," McGee said. “We will course correct as we get going. We will adjust, and we will deal with any inherent consequences as we work our way towards an end goal.”

This graphic helps to explain the city's new affordable housing action plan. Supplied Photo

McGee said the action plan utilized data from a recent housing needs assessment, which showed there are inadequate rental and ownership opportunities for moderate income earners in the city.

Her report noted 8.5 per cent of homeowners and 40.8 per cent of renters in Orillia are in "core housing" need, meaning they are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, their homes require major repairs, or their homes are unsuitable for the number of individuals residing within it.

She also noted there is a large gap between what people in Orillia earn and what local homes are selling for.

“For the moderate income earners … who make around $65,000 to $93,000, they would need to purchase a house for around $215,000 to $310,000,” McGee said. “In May 2023, the average resale price for homes was $669,000.”

For moderate income earners, McGee said affordable rent is between $1,100 and $1,600 per month, but noted the average one-bedroom rental in the area is around $1,800 per month.

Members of council expressed strong support for the plan, but Coun. Tim Lauer questioned whether all aspects of the plan will work in Orillia.

“There's lots of great ideas in this I look forward to actually exploring, but the devil is always in the details,” he said.

One aspect Lauer expressed concern about is the idea of a rental subsidy, noting the incoming affordable housing hub on West Street has an income cap around $79,000 for affordable housing applications, and the average income in the city is not much higher.

“That means there's a lot of people that would qualify for subsidies,” he said. “I'm not sure in a municipality that has a wage level that is significantly below the provincial average that we can afford that kind of thing.”

Following discussion, council approved the plan in principle, and referred its funding requirements to the city’s 2025 budget deliberations.

The action plan comes on top of nine action initiatives undertaken in the city's application for funding from the federal Housing Accelerator Fund, as well as its work with the county on a Housing Attainable Supply Action Plan (Housing ASAP).

The full plan may be found in the Wednesday council agenda.