Highlights from the Town of Tillsonburg 2021 budget and business plan included a ‘local review for additional access to affordable and sustainable housing.’
“I would suggest it’s ongoing already,” said Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar. “We network with people all the time.”
The issue could also come up during the town’s new Strategic Plan process that launched Jan. 11, as well as the economic development strategic plan that will be updated.
“That was something that I encouraged, that we at least have a more localized look at,” said Molnar.
“Certainly, affordable housing is the initiative of the upper tier when you get into the actual structure of municipal responsibilities in the County of Oxford.”
But there may be steps the Town can take to encourage an increased capacity in affordable and attainable housing.
“It’s not on our list of requirements for a lower tier municipality, and neither is health care, neither is education, neither is skills training, but when you look at those things and the value that each individually and collectively brings to a compassionate, caring, well-established community, they are all things that we have to be drivers and partners on… or you kind of get left behind.
“I just think, and I’m endorsed by Council, there’s a collective energy to ensure that we’re more involved at a local level,” he said. “I think that we’re having a very serious local discussion on how we can be partners to increased access to both affordable and attainable housing.”
One of those steps might be having “positive discussion” with developers investing in the community, said Molnar, that have had historical success in also developing affordable housing initiatives in Southwestern Ontario.
Municipalities have the capacity to remove or reduce development charges and building permit fees, he noted, and there may be some other community improvement plan initiatives.
If developers, who are in the community successfully building single-family homes and market rent rental units, can pass those municipal-initiated savings on to home owners or renters, while still maintaining a modest or equitable return on their investment, that’s where it may improve the affordable/attainable housing situation.
“In large part it’s going to be driven by the private sector or the private sector in partnership with other funds.”
Affordable housing (rent geared to income) and attainable housing have become issues across this part of the province in recent years.
“One of the greatest new challenges to industry is that you’re paying a fair wage, and where do people go home at night and have a safe place to put their head on a pillow?”
Escalated housing costs, which started in large urban centres, have over time migrated west to areas like Kitchener-Waterloo, and then to Woodstock, and over time to communities like Tillsonburg.
“The artificial escalation in housing prices has made it even more difficult, not just for those who need ‘affordable housing’, but those who are actively and gainfully employed… The price of rent or purchase can be difficult to attain.”
The County of Oxford has been actively developing affordable projects, and Molnar proudly noted there is a Housing First initiative at the county level. Any time Oxford sells surplus land, the revenue goes into an affordable housing project.
“It can be used individually, or most of the time in partnership with federal and provincial funds through affordable housing initiatives.”
The development at 13 Sanders St., operated by Tillsonburg Non-Profit Housing Corp., is an example of that kind of partnership.