With its natural beauty and promise of a work-life balance, Collingwood is rapidly growing.
The COVID-19 outbreak only accelerated this, and with the majority of the population working remotely, countless families are fleeing the city and settling into this area.
While economic development is both exciting and encouraged, it comes with its own set of growing pains.
One of the most significant barriers to such economic growth is a lack of varied housing options.
“There definitely is a sense that people are beginning to understand the lack of attainable housing for the local population is really becoming a problem and needs to be addressed,” said Marg Scheben-Edey, a retired realtor who is now the chair of the Collingwood Out of the Cold task force and an advocate for the homeless and social justice issues in the community.
While it is not a new issue, the discussion surrounding attainable housing has become increasingly important, and more people are getting involved in the conversation.
As part of its five-year economic development plan, the town of Collingwood has committed to attracting a more youthful workforce to the region. Having sufficient young workers is a prerequisite for long-term economic health, and in order to encourage this, the town needs to address the need for attainable accommodation with a broader, long-term Housing Strategy.
But it’s no longer just young professionals who can’t afford to live here, it’s across the board.
Historically, regional real estate markets have struggled with the “missing middie” — dwellings developed to help people transition out of the entry-level market. However, nowadays — and in Collingwood especially — even the entry-level offerings are extremely limited.
“Originally there was no middle market. You could buy small or you could buy really big, but there was nowhere to jump to in the middle if you were in the market at the entry-level. Now, there’s no entry-level,” said Scheben-Edey.
In fact, it’s difficult to even find an affordable rental unit.
“Just as the demand for real estate has gone up, so has the demand for rentals,” added Scheben-Edey. “And so rents have gone through the roof as well.”
Not only has this created an issue for those hoping to live and work in Collingwood, but it has also made it harder for businesses and companies to find the appropriate labour force to match their company’s growing needs.
“It all ties together and at the end of the day, it all comes back to housing,” said Scheben-Edey.
Affordable or attainable housing is generally defined as housing that costs less than 30 per cent of a household’s gross income. Published in July 2020, discussion papers from Collingwood's Official Plan Update state that in South Georgian Bay, there is little incentive for the private sector to supply lower-cost housing and has been delivering housing at the higher end of the market instead. Comparing the average income with the average house price, the document reveals a significant housing affordability/attainability problem in Collingwood.
“The conclusion of the consultants at the time was that there is zero affordable housing in Collingwood,” said Scheben-Edey. “What's worse, is that the data is already dated and the problem is significantly worse now. It’s really, really a big deal.”
Scheben-Edey said this has significantly impacted lower-income families as well.
Initiatives such as Home Horizons and Out of the Cold are doing what they can and have successfully helped several participants find permanent housing, but the main issue is a lack of inventory.
“Many of our participants have worked really hard and are doing great, and the barrier to being fully housed is merely the lack of anywhere for them to go,” said Scheben-Edey.
“The ones who have been placed in permanent housing are all thriving,” she added.
Fortunately, Scheben-Edey said the issue is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.
Councillor Kathy Jeffery has put forth a motion for a staff report on forming an attainable housing task force in the Town of Collingwood.
“There is a displacement going on,” said Jeffery. “I think that we need to engage in the conversation to get things moving for us. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Jeffery applauds the town’s Economic Recovery & Support Task Force following lockdowns imposed by COVID-19, and hopes that the new task force can tap into that same “expertise” to tackle housing — and do so quickly.
“What I think the task force can do is put some work into advocacy and upping the knowledge of the fact that we can get it done,” Jeffery said. “It’s been a problem for a long, long time. I see the task force as getting down to the nitty gritty really quick… what can we do right away.”
The role of the task force would be to advise council on ways to encourage developers to create attainable and affordable housing and to lobby other levels of government for financial support.
Council supported Jeffery’s request unanimously, and staff are preparing a report with the terms of reference by the end of February.
“We are waiting for that staff report to come forward to see what comes of that and what the municipality determines is their role and what isn’t,” said Scheben-Edey.
One of the main challenges both Jeffery and Scheben-Edey brought to light is the fact that traditionally, municipalities don’t see the issue of supportive housing as their role — they see it as one for the county.
“When you are talking about housing, it’s pretty impossible to talk about it without talking about official plans, economic development and sustainability ... which are municipal responsibilities,” said Scheben-Edey. “So there is definitely work to be done in defining that and understanding roles and responsibilities and bringing everyone together.”
In addition, companies in the community have taken it upon themselves to help tackle this issue.
Kelly Caldwell, co-owner and co-founder of Elevated Wealth Creations, said it’s a matter of “keeping the ball rolling” and continuing to create more available dwellings in our community.
“It’s not a secret to anybody that we need more available units,” said Caldwell. “Everybody needs a safe space to call home. Especially now, in a COVID environment.”
Caldwell knows first hand the struggle of growing up without a safe and sustainable place to live, and vowed to do everything in her power to ensure that others don’t end up in a similar situation. Her mission with Elevated Wealth Creations is to continue creating clean, safe and appropriate housing across Simcoe County, with a focus on Collingwood.
Elevated Wealth Creations was founded three years ago after Caldwell moved to the area and realized the need for more attainable housing. Along with contracting and renovation services, the company helps investors and homeowners buy rental properties and turn them into multi-family dwellings, and has since grown into a property management company as well.
“My goal is to continue to create and provide clean, safe, and appropriate units and replicate the model as many times as possible,” said Caldwell. “There is an inventory shortage across the board. But I think the landscape is positive.”
As far as positivity goes, Scheben-Edey agreed.
“There is an increasing recognition everywhere, by everyone, that this is a problem that does need to be solved,” said Scheben-Edey. “People are finally talking about it, so that is good news."