With increasing housing costs, homelessness, “renovictions” and a lack of affordable housing inventory in Orillia, city staff will examine non-traditional options to help increase the supply of affordable housing in the community.
At council committee Monday evening, Mayor Steve Clarke brought forward an inquiry motion asking staff to prepare a report outlining potential options by March 2023, which will be considered by the incoming term of council.
“It's one thing to mention it as a priority,” Clarke said of the affordable housing crisis. “It's another thing to know what to do about it because there isn't an easy answer, so I'm hoping that this motion will give the next term of council some tools to help make some decisions.”
Clarke said the report might assist the work of a potential affordable housing coordinator, a position which is slated for consideration in the 2023 budget deliberations.
“Coming to budget in 2023, which will be the next term of council, there will be the request for staffing resource to help deal specifically with affordable housing,” Clarke said. “It is my hope that the next term of council does approve that and if that is the case, that person … will be able to attack this report.”
Clarke highlighted affordable housing as an issue in Simcoe County and across Canada, with the pandemic turning “everything absolutely on its head,” and he said more needs to be done despite ongoing contributions to the issue.
“We pay a fair bit of money; we pay about $6.5 million to the county on an annual basis to provide some of the services for us … and that includes things like childcare, pensions from the province, first responders in terms of paramedics, but also … different levels of affordable housing,” Clarke said.
“Whatever we're doing is not enough right now, and this is really to help the city to examine ways to facilitate a quicker way to add to the inventory that we need to take the pressure off some of these prices, and it may be something as simple as enhancing (reserve funds)," said Clarke.
“I'm asking council for their support for this to provide the next council, and the council after that, perhaps, with some tools … to help us with the crisis that we find ourselves in.”
Council supported Clarke’s request.
“I think it's very important that council looks at any and all opportunities to try and address this issue and make things better,” said Coun. David Campbell. “Requesting this report ensures that it comes before the next term of council and that they have to have a serious look at it, and hopefully take some action.”
Coun. Ralph Cipolla questioned whether a “mayor’s task force” might be created during the current term of council to begin looking at the issue immediately.
“If this was a year ago, Ralph, or a year-and-a-half ago, or whatever period of time I need to to do this, I would seriously consider that, but I think we'd have a hard time getting it done in the next six or seven weeks,” responded Clarke.
“I don't want to burden the incoming mayor and council with a decision that we make about what they should be prioritizing in the future,” added Coun. Ted Emond. “Housing is on every candidate’s agenda, so I would be surprised if it is not a priority going forward but, I don't want to impose that on the resolution before us.”
Coun. Jay Fallis recalled a local mother he recently met and stressed the need for “creative initiatives” moving forward.
“She's got a little daughter at home, and she can't afford rent and is going to be evicted at the end of the month. I followed up with the service provider and asked, and they said that it's not unique – (there are) countless stories like this throughout the city,” he said.
“This is something that's really coming to roost, and we need to do all we can to meet the need, and I really do credit Mayor Clarke for bringing it forward and really hope it pushes some creative initiatives forward," said Fallis.
Decisions made at Monday’s council committee meeting will need to be ratified at the next council meeting (Oct. 3).