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Local housing crisis growing more 'acute,' warns Orillia mayor

'We have to be very careful that we don’t start going down a path that might take many, many years ... and won’t solve the problem that we’re facing,' said official
2019-08-13 LINX JO-002
Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke is shown in a file photo.

Collaboration and change are necessary for Ontario to build the 1.5 million necessary new homes in the next 10 years, members on a local panel addressing the housing crisis concluded.

A slate of panelists addressed the issue on the local, provincial and national levels during an online discussion presented by the Barrie & District Association of Realtors on Thursday.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said a critical lack of inventory, which has been widely exposed during the pandemic, has impacted housing and rental prices.

“It’s right across the housing continuum. It’s emergency shelter, it’s transitional housing, rent-geared-to-income, affordable, attainable, single-family dwellings," he said. "Even executive dwellings we have a critical shortage of right now.

"It’s just become that much more acute during the last few years.”

The average price of a home in Orillia earlier this year hovered around $900,000, a range that was previously unfathomable, Clarke said, suggesting that some people would not have been able to purchase the homes they are in if they were to buy now.

Orillia has been identified as a growth area, outpacing the provincial growth, and it is looking to expand its boundaries and intensify development.

Clarke pointed out that construction of additional units seemed to have stalled until 2016, with no more than 500 building permits issued. That has since climbed past 700 to what he described as an explosion of construction in the Sunshine City.

Yet, an acute need persists. 

Clarke said the target of adding 1.5 million homes across the province is admirable, but also wondered how that would be achieved and if it is, whether it will have the desired effect.

Nathan Westendorp, the County of Simcoe’s director of planning, said in tackling the issue and using undeveloped land, municipalities can identify what’s there, what’s missing and what people can afford. 

“However, it is the private sector  landowners, developers, builders and tradespeople  that actually and typically get the vision built,” Westendorp said. “To bring the vision to life that a community has, all elements of the partnership in the housing system need to understand each other’s world a little bit better.”

The plans need to meet the needs of the community, Westendorp said, but also needs to be build-able on the private side.

Ontario Home Builders’ Association president Bob Schickedanz suggested streamlining the process in terms of identifying the necessary steps, expectations and timing, when asked about provincial standards. 

“We have to be very careful that we don’t start going down a path that might take many, many years to achieve an end and won’t solve the problem that we’re facing today,” he said.

Both Schickedanz and Mike Moffatt, senior policy and innovation director of the Smart Prosperity Institute, emphasized the need for those in the trades and immigration was necessary to build those additional homes.

Moffatt believes there is too much of a concentration upon bringing in white-collar workers to the exclusion of the blue-collar workers so badly needed in Canada.

Panel members also identified NIMBY (not in my backyard) and abuse of the consultation process as an ongoing obstacle that can sway some municipalities into delaying projects, which, in turn, pushes up the ultimate cost of development. That can, in the end, price some people out of the market and possibly putting the overall project at risk.

“The builder would go on this merry-go-round, have to visit department after department over and over again,” said Tim Hudak, chief executive officer with the Ontario Real Estate Association. 

Schickedanz pointed out that there can be many approval bodies involved in a project from the municipal and provincial levels, creating something akin to a spider web of agencies that all have to report back, each on their own timeline.

“Sometimes these processes are not working in parallel,” he said. “We have to work on creating a process that’s more regularized.”