As many as 24 families could find affordable housing in Huntsville if the concept for a new development goes ahead.
It’s still in very early stages, but representatives for Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North (HFHOGN) outlined their idea at the July 25 General Committee meeting.
“In Ontario Gateway North, we have, as of the end of 2017, served 45 families,” said Kimberley Woodcock, CEO for HFHOGN. The organization’s territory comprises the area from Orillia to Sudbury. “I think that’s wonderful for those 45 families but we need to do better than that. We need to be bigger, we need to be more ambitious, and we need your help in the goals.”
Woodcock said that the organization is changing its operational practices to serve families more efficiently and so that the partners who support its builds “can rely on a successful project.” She added that they recognize that in the past they’ve “let people down in project management terms. We have missed deadlines, we have not met the scrutiny for good, effective and efficient business and we are changing that…It’s important to us that we are reliable and professional.”
HFHOGN will be implementing a new strategy focused on multi-unit builds concentrated in one geographic location at a time. Contrast that with the builds planned for 2018: there are seven projects spread across HFHOGN’s vast territory.
“We are serving seven different families…but the geography is very challenging,” said Woodcock. “We have limited resources as a non-profit and we are spread all across this large territory so it’s very difficult to be efficient and effective. We are looking to concentrate our efforts on a rotational basis throughout the region but when we are in any given location we are looking to build many units at the same time and serve many families at the same time so that when we engage contractors, we engage the (municipality), we engage partners, you know you are getting bang for your buck.”
She noted that the need for affordable housing is growing, not shrinking, and that based on 2016 District of Muskoka numbers, the social housing waitlist includes 690 families. Later in the meeting, Mayor Scott Aitchison said that about 300 of those families are in the Huntsville area.
HFHOGN asked that the Town consider donating municipal land for a project, one with access to amenities like schools, parks, and jobs, and one that is build-ready with access to municipal services. “What we are finding is that some of our properties have barriers to building, so we have accepted land donations that in effect do cost us a lot of money to resolve issues in order to build,” said Woodcock, adding that the size of the property is of equal importance to ensure they can construct multi-unit buildings along with associated land uses like parking.
These are just ideas in concept stage, but what I’m here to say is let’s make an impact. I’m looking for a partner for Habitat for Humanity that can help us achieve this. I am very excited about the potential we have and making a larger impact on the cause.Kimberley Woodcock, CEO, Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North
Mayor Scott Aitchison replied, “I think it’s fairly well known that this group of councillors here is passionately concerned about the issue of attainable housing. We are on record as giving some land away already. Obviously we want to work with you. You have a great track record despite whatever internal challenges you may have just addressed. Habitat for Humanity is an amazing organization we are proud to have partnered with in the past and would love to do so again.”
Local developer Larry Ross was present for the meeting as well. He owns property off Chaffey Township Road to the east of Muskoka Road 3 where he has proposed a new subdivision.
“We had some excess land on the west side of the creek. When I first looked at it my thought was it would be an excellent location for affordable housing. The property is adjacent to a piece of land owned by the Town of Huntsville where the Quonset hut formerly resided, and then adjacent to that is a piece of property owned by the District on Chaffey Township Road,” explained Ross. “I originally approached Habitat because I am starting a new development and I had the idea of donating some lots to Habitat. When Kim and I met and we started discussing this concept of doing multi-residential, that site immediately came to mind because it’s big enough, it’s got the right qualities, there’s not a lot of rock there, it’s serviceable, it’s close to schools, it’s got all the right properties.”
Ross acknowledged that with three current land owners in that area—his company, the Town and the District—it’s “a complicated situation,” but that he’d be willing to donate his land.
Mayor Aitchison wondered what consideration had been given to design of the site. “…it is tucked in behind a number of other houses, the old Chaffey Hall, the current District Water and Sewer lines operation and it has a fairly industrial look on some sides. Is there a way to make it look like we’re not trying to hide people tucked away somewhere?”
Cautioning that the idea is still conceptual, Ross said that one solution could be to eliminate the District of Muskoka building on Chaffey Township Road and close the lane leading to Muskoka Road 3. “You eliminate that building and that site opens up quite a bit,” said Ross, adding that he would work with architects and engineers to design “a pleasing, Muskoka-look building. I’ve done some initial sketches and been able to roughly locate two 12-plexes on that property. I think that we would be very cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to stigmatize the site and obviously try and work as best we can to make it attractive and appealing. There’s a lot of interesting things we could build into that site as well in terms of recreational areas, walking trails.”
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe wanted to know if the proposed development would comprise only Habitat for Humanity units or if there would be units sold at market value as well.
“It could be either,” said Woodcock. “We have taken partial units within a grander scope…however we also have examples of full buildings that are all Habitat run and operated. We have different models that we can leverage so this can all be part of the discussion.”
Councillor Nancy Alcock wondered how Habitat’s sweat-equity model would work with a multi-unit building, while Councillor Det Schumacher was concerned about maintenance and ensuring that the building wouldn’t deteriorate over time.
“Each of our partner families do have to provide 500 hours of sweat equity and those can be on a build site, but it’s important to remember that they can be directed other places like the ReStore where volunteer hours are always gratefully received,” said Woodcock, adding that they look for appropriate opportunities in the build process that are volunteer friendly, but skilled labourers are used for the remainder of the work. As for maintenance, she said that a condo association model could be one way to ensure that funds were set aside for that purpose.
Woodcock also reminded councillors that Habitat homes are not free—potential partner families must apply and their ability to pay a mortgage is one of the considerations. “We have a financial structure that allows people access to purchase a home without the down payment that’s required, the $10,000 let’s say that people would have to have in the bank otherwise. Our mortgages are interest-free and we may also extend the amortization period of the mortgage beyond the normal 25 years. We make those considerations in order to get somebody on the property ladder but we are not offering housing to people who do not have a job. There is a strict financial application that goes with our process and if the community understands that houses are appropriate for people who are working in the tourism industry, people who are working in customer service, working as construction labourers—people who hold full-time jobs who work hard but just don’t have the ability to break the paycheque to paycheque cycle.”
Town staff were directed to investigate potential municipal lands that would accommodate the development and report back with options. Their investigation would include the property discussed during the meeting.
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