Task force proposes new ideas for housing
By Chad Ingram
Published April 19, 2018
The Minden Hills Housing Task Force has some suggestions for council on diversifying housing in the community, making it more affordable and addressing a mismatch between the types of housing available and what is required.
Task force members Fay Martin and Bob Carter made a presentation to councillors during their April 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
As Martin explained, the presentation included the findings of the task force’s penultimate report, for which a great deal of research had been completed. The task force, which is a working group of the township’s planning and development advisory committee, was given its mandate by council in June of 2016. Its mandate is to create an ongoing mechanism for community engagement with regard to meeting the housing needs of the municipality.
One of the task force’s chief findings was a dearth of rental housing in the township.
“Twelve per cent of our accommodation is rental,” Martin said. “The provincial number is 30 per cent. Because we are, if not the poorest, one of the poorest jurisdictions in the province, our rental accommodation should be greater than the provincial average. And it’s not even half.”
Not only are rental units in Minden Hills hard to come by, but they are expensive.
“Furthermore, our rent rates are really high,” Martin said. “They are higher than some really big urban areas, like London and Kingston, and they are not affordable for many people.”
Defining affordability can be tricky.
“It is a really slippery word,” Martin said, explaining the task force had adopted the average market rate to define affordability.
That means, utilities included, $871 per month for a one-bedroom unit, $1,075 for a two-bedroom unit, and $1,246 for a three-bedroom rental.
Martin said that 47 per cent of renters, and 22 per cent of homeowners, have affordability issues, meaning they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on their shelter needs.
On top of that, there is what Martin called, “an abysmal mismatch between our people and our housing.”
Overwhelmingly, the types of rental units available in the township are not what is required.
While 76 per cent of rental households in Minden Hills are comprised of one or two people, only six per cent of rental housing includes one-bedroom units. Twenty-seven per cent of units have two bedrooms.
While only 20 per cent of rental households include three to four people, 44 per cent of the township’s rental stock is comprised of three-bedroom spaces, and while just four per cent of rental households include five or more people, 24 per cent of rental accommodations in the community have four or more bedrooms.
“There is a really bad mismatch between the size of our households which are small, and the size of our housing stock, which is large,” Martin said.
She added that because of this, the task force is focused almost entirely on creating more one-bedroom units, and is proposing four templates as a means of doing that.
“The first one is variations on secondary suites,” Martin said, explaining that the creation of garden suites – detached, one-bedroom units with their own kitchen and bathroom, and located on the same property as a main residence – could be a viable form of housing for some. While regulations currently specify that garden suites are to be portable and occupied only by family members or employees of the owner of the dwelling, the task force is recommending they be permanent structures whose occupants don’t necessarily require a relationship with the owner, and be located in rurally zoned areas.
The second template is a cluster of tiny homes in the village of Minden.
“Tiny homes are really popular these days,” Martin said. “They’re a lifestyle choice that reduces cost and carbon footprint.”
The task force’s recommendation is a cluster of tiny homes, 400 to 450 square feet in size, permanently located on a single lot and connected to the village’s water and sewer system. The group recognized some impediments including bylaws regulating the minimum size of residences, and the importance of collective accountability for shared space.
“It’s always important that people who share space get along,” Martin said, adding that was also true of street or apartment building.
The third template was a downtown revitalization concept that includes mixing residential spaces with commercial ones along Minden’s main drag. The task force is recommending the repurposing of an under-utilized retail space with a second storey, as well as maybe some back-lane housing, for the possible creation of six to 15 residential units.
“This is the idea of stabilizing the downtown street by adding housing in combination with retail,” Martin said, adding this would provide additional revenue for building owners, as well as create housing in a convenient location. She said that while some people like the concept, others believe the downtown should be mostly for stores only.
“Let’s have the conversation,” Martin said.
The fourth template is the idea of a “made-in-Minden Hills” seniors’ campus, which would entail a large facility offering a full spectrum of care for the aging as they move through life’s final phases. Such a project would require a suitable property, along with a substantial amount of money.
“This will require funding from all levels of government and other sources as well,” Martin said. She added that a facility of appropriate size for the community may not be attractive to conventional developers of such facilities, who are in high demand and can make more money on larger projects.
One funding method the task force is recommending for any housing option is the creation of social bonds.
Carter explained the concept to councillors.
“Really, what it is, are bonds that are raised, money that is raised for social issues, so for things like renewable energy projects, types of co-ops, various types of other social enterprises, and housing,” Carter said. “There is, under the Ontario Securities Commission, a special sort of niche for these social bonds. They don’t have to go through all the rules and regulations that other, regular bond issuers would have to go through in terms of getting ratings from agencies and going through lots of the legal issues that are associated with them. But they are very much legitimate financial instruments.”
Social bonds involve residents with deeper pockets investing in their neighbourhoods.
“It is going to people and saying, instead of putting your money into a GIC, instead of all the money you’ve got sitting in the bank getting one per cent, why don’t you buy a bond that may pay three, four or five per cent, depending on the term and so on, and invest in your community?”
Carter pointed to people retiring to the township’s lakes, people who often have considerable assets and who will require services in their new home.
“We have this situation where people are moving into the community and retiring here,” he said. “Although the incomes may not be high because they’ve retired, there’s a lot of people sitting on a lot of assets . . . Why not take some those assets and invest in your community?”
“That group of people will require services,” Carter continued, “and some of the people that are going to provide those services, they’re younger and they may need places to live.”
Council thanked task force members for their work.
“There’s lots of moving pieces,” said Mayor Brent Devolin. “We’re going to, certainly in the next year, talk about all these things, from an official plan point of view.”
Devolin said some of the suggestions will feed into other activities the township is undertaking, such as an economic development plan, and said he liked the idea of integrating more residential spaces into Minden’s downtown.
“They’re doing some stuff in Lindsay to that regard and it would be lovely to see a version of it here in downtown Minden,” he said. “You definitely have my attention.”
As for a seniors’ campus, Devolin said such a large project would certainly require funding from both the provincial and federal levels of government.
“And absolutely who has to be at the table and committed to this is HHHS,” he said.
Councillor Pam Sayne also commended the work of the task force.
“This task force is always trying to find a place to meet,” Sayne said, adding she thought there was inconsistency in the way various advisory committees are treated, and that the township should be offering the task force a place to meet on a regular basis.
The task force will host a public consultation on housing on Saturday, May 19, from 10 a.m to 3 p.m. inside Minden Hills council chambers.