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Letter to the editor:

As nonprofit developers like Glassworks have discovered, it has become unreasonably difficult to build attainable housing in Owen Sound - the place "where people want to live."

A recent New York Times article describes what the state of California is doing to overcome municipal barriers to building more housing. The California approach to overcoming local barriers is aligned with the Ontario governments efforts to advance More Homes for Everyone. The NYT article offers lessons learned for Owen Sound candidates in the upcoming municipal election.

As we heard at last week’s Chamber of Commerce sponsored all-candidates meeting, our local candidates, with few exceptions (notably Carol Merton who has championed a Made-in-Owen Sound Housing Strategy forever) have the right intentions but lack evidence-informed ideas for addressing affordable housing, unhoused people on the downtown streets and taking responsibility for leading an all-of-society approach to our neighbours struggles.  

Not a single candidate mentioned The Homeless Hub or the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness - the largest national research institute devoted to homelessness in Canada - a library of over 30,000 resources.  Our current Deputy Mayor - Brian O’Leary - claimed that all municipalities are struggling and overwhelmed - yet, clearly many are implementing plans and seeing results.  Belleville - a community often used as a comparator for Owen Sound - is among those small cities that have successfully applied for and received federal funding through Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy.  

Owen Sound has not even applied for federal funding - possibly because despite an overly-large human resources staff, our city lacks the staffing capacity for social planning expertise to understand the link between economic development and the social determinants of health (income, education, employment, food security, housing, early childhood development, social inclusion and non-discrimination, access to quality health services). 

At the all-candidates meeting last week, Mayor Boddy boasted about the groundwork for economic growth that has been laid by safeguarding the inventory of land available for manufacturing.  Today, there are approximately 10,500 businesses in Grey County with 70% being sole-proprietor or home-based businesses, significantly reducing the current and projected need for excess industrial lands.

The heyday for manufacturing in Owen Sound left years ago, along with the railroads, shipping port and wannabe commercial airport.  Hydrogen Oxegenated - part of the mayor’s much-touted green-energy powerhouse to come - now occupies the former Tennaco facility in the industrial park.  HO employs 30 people in place of the 500 that worked for the previous employer.  Another reason for the decrease in demand is likely because the first question would-be manufacturers will ask - if I build it in Owen Sound, how will I get it to market?  Down the 2hour drive along the single-lane choices of Hwy #6 or Hwy#10 to markets and distribution centres in Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, London?  

Without a mix of ready access to markets and transportation, attainable housing, an educated workforce, good daycare and schools, a safe, attractive downtown core, family doctors, those sacred and excessive industrial lands will remain what they have been for the past 70 years - empty barriers to more housing.  
An economic development strategy based not on attracting foreign manufacturing - which is the current recommendation of both the local and county economic development staff   but on building and retaining local assets like Grey Bruce Health Services and Indigenous tourism offers greater opportunity for much needed local engagement and success.  

A satellite medical school such as those in Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Kitchener, or a centre of excellence in rural mental health and addictions, or rural seniors isolation and wellbeing based at GBHS would help address an intractable local crisis that is prevalent across Canada, and attract much-needed economic growth.  

An Indigenous tourism trail (driven and led by Indigenous communities) linking existing historic cultural destinations in Penetanguishene, Collingwood, Meaford, Saugeen, Kincardine, Nawash, Lions Head and Manitoulin Island could provide vast opportunities for advancing regional economic development and long-overdue Reconciliation efforts.  Funding for both these opportunities is available from both federal and provincial sources.  Why isn’t Owen Sound pursuing options not solely focused on outdated dreams for a resurgence of manufacturing ?

Our current major employers - including the Grey Bruce Hospital Services - cannot attract doctors, nurses, PSW’s and other essential workers because there is no affordable housing.  

It's time to reimagine and rezone Owen Sound for more complete communities, more liveable places, more cafes, craft breweries, restaurants, small businesses, cycling, wrap-around housing and amenities for seniors and those in need of supportive services in a safe, welcoming place, attracting more population growth, more economic development.

I’d like to ask every candidate the following:

  • For every  100 lower-income families that rent housing in Owen Sound, how many units of affordable housing are available?
  • Would you support a law requiring local government to make room for enough housing to meet projected demand?
  • Cities have deep pockets to resist provincial laws.  Does Ontario need a stronger legal basis for lawsuits against obstructionist municipalities?

In closing, I offer a quote from the NYT article:

"The willingness of California’s state leaders to override the obstructionist proclivities of local governments in the service of the broader public interest is making a real difference. Similar courage is needed from political leaders everywhere."

I welcome ideas from local candidates, as well as MPP Rick Byers and MP Alex Ruff.

Pat Kelly, Owen Sound



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