By Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith
Solving the housing crunch is something we should all get behind
When I speak to people about housing lately the comments are often the same: “Can’t believe the prices”, “what are young people going to do”, “we need more of it”, and “I wouldn’t want to have to buy my first place right now”. I agree with it all. Currently in Bracebridge we have an incredible need for housing of all types and the supply has simply not been able to keep up with demand.
While the problem has been magnified during COVID-19 it is not new. Prior to the pandemic the same issues were prevalent, especially in the last few years, and it has not been limited to buying a home. Reasonably priced rentals are scarce, any rentals frankly, and get scooped up quickly as soon as they hit the market. For subsidized rentals, the list grows ever longer.
We all know this must be addressed but the answers are not simple. Government policy, strategic investment and the private sector are all part of the solution. Even then there is still a factor that is even harder to address but is an acute barrier to building more housing and finding homes for people: the attitude of some that affordable or higher-density housing is great…if it is not near me.
Too often when higher-density applications come in the empathetic statements I mentioned earlier change and NIMBY bromides such as “my property value will drop”, “there will be too much traffic”, and sometimes “I don’t want to live near those people” replace them. Hands up if your property value has decreased in recent years.
As demand grows and the cost of building grows with it, the desire for developers to build homes that are more densely parceled together grows as well. Sure, there is a market for homes that are on spacious lots with large setbacks, but the cost of those homes is enormous and only serve a small part of the market of existing homebuyers looking to move up. We need a mix of housing types, and they need to be integrated throughout the community.
Our council has been seeing more applications for building than at any time in recent history, which is a good thing. Among them are various applications for housing types that are becoming the norm rather than the exception; small-lot singles and townhomes are now commonplace. This is going to continue. Intensification is part of the Provincial Policy Statement which our local planning policies need to adhere to.
I truly believe in the public meeting system which is part of property rezoning. It is an integral part of council’s decision-making process. The involvement of the public has brought much good information to consider over the years and it has often made a big difference in supporting, or in some cases, denying applications. I would not have it any other way but knee-jerk reactions to higher density housing being automatically bad, or not “Muskoka” enough I cannot support. Opposing new housing needs to be done with reason and justification not blind emotion.
Bracebridge has an Official Plan that is a roadmap for how the town will grow and clearly identifies the urban area. I cannot be clearer, in these areas people should expect growth and the development of currently undeveloped parcels to take place. It must be done responsibly which is why the Town has various by-laws and regulations to ensure this and it is why not every application is rubber-stamped. Each one needs careful vetting. Managed growth is always the goal.
Recently I was in one of the few retail places one can be during the pandemic and overheard a conversation between an employee and their boss. The employee was saying that he could not keep the job, he thought he had a place but that it did not work out and the lack of rentals or affordable places to buy meant he had to return to the city. It broke my heart. Here is a person that has a job, wants to be in our community, and had to leave. That is bad for everyone involved and bad for our community, and it is not an isolated incident.
While many of the applications we see are for housing that would not be considered affordable, every unit that comes online means somebody is moving in the system, creating a chance for someone at the entry-point, possibly for the person I referenced.
As growth continues there will be good and not-so-good applications that come forward, all deserving of public scrutiny. Let’s be thoughtful before automatic negative responses are given and think more about what that new home or apartment can mean for others and for our town.
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