Bridging the divide
A number of recurring themes have arisen at municipal all-candidates meetings in the county during the past few weeks.
An overarching theme, and one that will be perhaps the biggest challenge for the new councils in the county, not just in the upcoming term, but for decades to come, is the balancing of the needs of a growing, senior population with the needs of young families; the people who will be required to provide the services that the growing senior population requires.
In the most self-evident statement of the year, there are a lot of older people in Haliburton County. The 2016 census shows the percentage of the county’s population comprised by people 65 and older to be nearly 35 per cent. That figure jumps to more than half if one looks at people 55 and older.
The county’s population grows at a modest rate – an average of just more than one per cent per year – and statistics certainly indicate that population growth is facilitated largely by people retiring to the community.
The student population of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, meanwhile, is nearly half what it was in the not-so-distant past. There is a growing number of aging people, who require services, moving to the community – a “silver tsunami” is the way the president of the local CARP chapter put it during a recent meeting – and a shrinking number of younger people to provide those services.
So, what do young families require? First and most critically, they require places to live. Places they can afford.
Talk to a realtor, and you’ll know that the real estate market in the county is quite hot right now, and not just for waterfront properties. Homes advertised as starter or retirement homes now come with price tags in the $300,000 range. Do the math on a 20 per cent downpayment for that starter house. Now consider the average, after-tax, household income in Haliburton County is $62,000.
So young families who can’t afford to buy a place rent a place (if they can find one), but also consider that average rents in the area are now creeping toward $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom unit, and $1,500 per month or more for a three-bedroom house.
Young families need affordable places to live and providing those places will require creative and innovative thinking on the part of municipal councillors. Obviously, the real estate market is beyond their control, however, revisiting zoning bylaws to facilitate tiny home communities or downtown rentals above commercial buildings is not.
Community bonds are a great concept, whereby wealthier people retiring to the community could invest in housing projects that would provide living space for the very people who will provide the services the investors themselves will require.
Balancing the needs of the old, who require services, and the young, who provide services, will be the biggest challenge for local politicians in the county for years and years to come. The first step in that balancing act is providing young families with affordable places to live.