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- by David Beverly-Foster

There’s a lot of talk about housing affordability lately, for good reason. Without going too far and risking the detainment of my friends, people are resorting to some pretty ‘creative’ means to get by, but only when they’re lucky enough to have access to the space to set up a tent, camper, shack, tiny home, or hole up in a barn. Many people have heard about the homeless camps.

Yes, you might not realize just how badly people want to live in this community, and how hard it is.

I see report after report highlighting the mathematical difficulties (or impossibilities) of renting in Grey-Bruce, and in Owen Sound. Simply put, the housing market has turned its gaze to economic classes that are hard to join if you grow up around here. Our expectations are falling and having safe and secure housing is looking a lot more like a privilege than a human right.

It doesn’t need to be this way, but it certainly is.

At the same time that Grey County reports a ‘twin crisis’ in the bottoming-out of vacancy rates and the skyrocketing price of rent, there are talks in the works of yet more subdivision developments in Owen Sound. This has been touted as a response to the affordable housing crisis, as it’s considered intensive development and the narrow lots ‘outside the box thinking’.

Are cheap apartment buildings too far outside the box? What about those neat walk-ups you see in places like Montreal, a notoriously affordable city (it’s all relative)? There appears to be no will in new development projects to just develop affordable housing.

Some jurisdictions require all new developments to include a portion of the units to be ‘affordable’. This would be a huge step forward as the city continues to facilitate suburbanization.

An even more meaningful response would be to, when awarding the next development contract or two, stipulate that most of the units be ‘affordable’, if not all. At least while there’s such an obvious affordability crisis in our community.

I mean, we managed to pull off the new downtown condo. Let’s do it again, but for everyone. Ask developers to build us a tower of $800 rooms. They will. Or at least, we won’t know until we try.

If apartments are too passe, then let’s turn some of these empty lots into something more innovative. But hurry up, please.

It really is so simple as the municipality just saying so. That’s what it means to govern.

But, as it is, the will is not there. It would appear that the City Council would rather more expensive housing developments, even if they are low-density surburbs, in order to secure more tax revenue.

I would ask: why bother securing more tax revenue if you’re not going to use it to serve the needs of the community?

And so I emailed the city council asking them to please consider ‘inclusive zoning’ policies, if only as a stop-gap for the next few developments to respond to the immediate affordability crisis. Though it would make for good permanent policy for a sustainable future. And I ask any concerned readers to please apply similar pressure.

We are lucky to live in such a ‘small’ community. We could absolutely make this happen. The council just doesn’t want it, or believe it possible. Yet.

Strategy 1 of Grey County’s new affordable housing plan is to build more affordable housing. Let’s help push them forward, shall we? Put some fire under their feet.

A friend of mine, who left Grey-Bruce because he couldn’t afford to stay here, was cynical about the odds. He worried that Grey-Bruce couldn’t muster the will to have ‘municipal decisions based on need, rather than profit’. Well, I’m hoping that we can be better than that.

People need us to be.

I remember when I was a child all the adults complaining about the young people leaving.

Then let’s find them somewhere to stay. Let’s build it.

David Beverly-Foster is the author of Walking Home, a book he wrote about his love of this community, and part of his journey to be here


 

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