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A map showing the regions which constitute the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus (EOWC). Courtesy of the EOWC on LinkedIn.

Plan to Construct 28,000 New Housing Units in Eastern Ontario over the next Seven Years Presented to Council

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
October 3, 2023
Plan to Construct 28,000 New Housing Units in Eastern Ontario over the next Seven Years Presented to Council
A map showing the regions which constitute the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus (EOWC). Courtesy of the EOWC on LinkedIn.

Representatives of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) Peterborough County Warden, Bonnie Clark and former Chief Administrative Officer of Hastings County, Jim Pine, brought forward their plan to quickly build new housing units in the region over the next seven years, known as the Seven and Seven Regional Housing Plan. 

The plan, as Pine explained it during General Committee on October 2nd, is to build 7,000 new units of social housing over the next seven years in addition to 21,000 market-rate rental units in that same timeframe which Pine stated could be achieved through partnerships with the private sector. The total cost of this development was estimated to be approximately $3.1B based on $440,000 per unit which is expected to generate $9B in economic activity across the region. 

“In total, we're really talking about 28,000 new units over the next seven years,” Pine told Councillors. “To try and house people the Stats Canada tells us that we should be doing at least 38,000. That's the current need for core housing. So while we're tackling a large part, there's still a lot of work to do to get housing where it needs to be in eastern Ontario.”  

The EOWC is constituted of representatives from 13 regions with a combined population of approximately 800,000 rural residents across the southeastern part of the province. The geographic area extends from Kawartha Lakes in the west to the Counties of Prescott and Russell in the east and extends as far north as Renfrew County. 

The plan specifically aims to address the growing demand for social and affordable housing in the area which has seen waitlists rapidly grow over the past year since work initially began on this regional housing plan. 

Pine explained that when the EOWC met last year, the waitlist for housing was around 14,000 people whereas now, as of last week, the list has grown to nearly 16,000. The result, he said, is that people are waiting an average of four years to be housed, but that in some cases it can be up to ten. 

“We need to do more to try and solve the problem,” Pine said. “We really want to be clear is that what we're proposing is to make sure the rental housing continuum, where we have our community housing, for instance, isn't lost in the effort. We're really focusing on that kind of housing and with this project.”

During the discussion that followed the EOWC’s presentation, Councillor Dave Haacke noted his fears around governments being involved in the planning and funding of this project. 

“When the government gets involved, I usually can’t afford their help,” Haacke said, noting that private developers in Peterborough have been able to deliver “just as nice” housing for significantly less than the $440,000 per unit estimate Pine cited. 

In response, Pine asserted that the EOWC’s job “is to make the municipal contribution as small as possible.” Warden Clark added that “the thing here is that the social housing that we’re proposing—the seven and seven—those 7,000 units will be in the public’s ownership for eternity.” 

“We certainly want builders involved,” Clark continued. “We did present to the Ontario Building Associaion and they were very supportive of this, we need all partners at the table, but when we do ask for the grants from the province and from the [federal government] that is for the social housing sector, which we will own as municipalities.”

A “fired up” Councillor Alex Bierk stated that “it feels like we’re piling money into the very part of the system that’s broken” which has resulted in “building kind of more with less forethought and more quickly meaning it’s not going to last long.” 

“I’m worried that this is just a reactionary response to the housing crisis that isn’t necessarily dealing with it,” Bierk continued before asking Warden Clark to assuage his concerns. 

“The EOWC has never gone into anything without looking at all the numbers and making sure it works,” Warden Clark responded. “This procurement model, what it is going to do is give us enough clout to be able to buy and supply for every region we will be sharing blueprints. We will be sharing suppliers in a larger volume for each area, and that will cut down [on cost] as well.” 

To this, Bierk noted his reservation with a plan which he sees as “bending to developers” and his fears about his children’s generation inheriting housing that was “built quickly by us in response to this crisis.”

Chair of Housing and Homelessness for the City of Peterborough, Keith Riel, pressured Pine and Warden Clark to confirm that Peterborough would receive its fair share of the money required to build affordable housing within the City. 

“People migrate from the County into the City to live and certainly I want to make sure that Peterborough gets their fair share because like I say we have thousands of people on the list right now looking for affordable housing,” Riel stated bluntly before continuing, asking “what assurances do I have putting on my homer cap as a City Councillor for the City of Peterborough?”

Warden Clarke’s response specified that the lobbying approach being implemented with the provincial and federal levels of government, which highlights the distinct regional aspects of the plan will ensure that each municipality and County will receive proper resources.

“As Vice Chair of the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, and having Peterborough in my title, I will certainly assure you that we will, in our communities, get our share, and that's why when we looked at this, everyone sitting around that table…wants their fair share,” she explained.

Peterborough, which boasts a 1.1% vacancy rate and the 10th highest rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Canada, is also famously lacking in land upon which to develop, which was a major concern for Councillor Leslie Parnell. 

“It’s not just building the houses, Mr. Chair, whether they’re affordable or social,” she said. “It’s all of the infrastructure that goes with it. You need land. Where are we going to build these?”

Warden Clark told Council that they will be working on a business plan and then noted that the EOWC intends on asking the provincial and federal governments for lands “in kind.”

“We're sitting here asking for your support and this to go forward, it certainly isn't financial support we're asking here this evening, we're asking in theory,” Warden Clak continued. “once we get our business plan in place, and we will be sharing that, and we certainly we have to look at the numbers and what works for each and every region.”

Pine added in response to Parnell’s comments that the EOWC has gone through “a pretty extensive exercise of doing a land inventory” which included looking at municipal lands around the region in order to determine which would be ready for development. 

When Parnell expressed her concern that these developments could eat into precious green spaces across the region, Warden Clark added that she believes the provincial government “has learned its lesson on green spaces” referring to the Doug Ford government’s outwardly corrupt $8B backroom sale of Greenbelt lands to private developers which has since been reversed. 

Despite the reversal, and yet another apology from Ford himself about how he should have known better, the debacle has resulted in multiple Minister resignations and thrown his government into turmoil.

Councillors voted unanimously to accept the report for information. A final discussion and vote on Council’s support for the EOWC’s Seven and Seven Regional Housing Plan will be held at the next City Council meeting on October 23rd. 

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