How would Huntsville candidates address housing issues and homelessness?

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Nine candidates running in the October 22 municipal election for Mayor, Town and District Council, and Brunel Ward fielded questions on everything from affordable housing and healthcare to water quality and waterfront development at an All-Candidates Forum on September 20 hosted by the Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce. (Note: Town and District Council candidate Lillian Fraser was absent. The candidates in Chaffey Ward, Jonathan Wiebe, and Huntsville Ward, Karin Terziano, are acclaimed. Candidates in Stisted, Stephenson, Port Sydney Ward participated in a separate forum on September 27.) 

Two of the questions, which had been submitted to moderator Kelly Haywood, HLOBCC Executive Director, by event sponsor The Lakeland Association of Realtors and YourTV Muskoka in advance of the meeting, were regarding housing and homelessness. These were the candidates’ responses.


One in four Canadians will purchase a home in the next year. If elected, do you propose to address housing affordability and availability and would you support a municipal land transfer tax if the option was granted? (Submitted by The Lakelands Association of Realtors)

Mayoral candidates

Peggy Peterson: “Affordable housing is a critical issue for the Town of Huntsville. For the general population, for seniors and for youth. What we have seen is that there is a lot of people retiring to this area. And although we have some higher-end retirement places we don’t have a seniors centre per se as some communities provide. The first thing I’d like to do as mayor is do a full inventory of what town assets we have now within the community sector because we need to make this affordable housing accessible to our town because a lot of people don’t have cars. The whole point of that whole process is really determining our inventory and really seeing what we can do because we have to build places. We also have to provide accommodation for our seasonal residents, many of our businesses in this area cannot hire employees because there is no place for them to live. Those are things that impact all of us.”

Scott Aitchison (incumbent): “I can solve part of your question already Ms. Peterson, we’ve already done the inventory of land, I can give you that list tomorrow if you’d like. So that’s done. We have already given some away to the private sector to develop affordable housing but it’s not just about affordable housing, that’s an important segment of the housing sector but it’s really we need a mix of all kinds of housing. It’s about a range of prices, it’s about what’s called attainable housing, some of it’s geared to income, some of it’s affordable which is a specific definition and some of it’s more market rents and just different ranges of prices available in our community. And so we are working hard solve a lot of those, all of those issues and make sure that we get more housing in the mix because more supply—it’s a supply and demand issue—if there’s more supply of rental housing it’s going to bring prices down as more people move into the community. So I think that’s important. And we are working to do it, this council has worked harder than any council…” [end of allotted time]

During rebuttal, Peterson asked if Aitchison would clarify his comment that the Town had given away land. Aitchison responded, “I first want to get to the land transfer tax because I didn’t get a chance to and one of the things that I thought would be worth exploring is if the province did give us the power to enact a municipal land transfer tax, I thought it might be a useful tool for the municipalities if we were able to enact the land transfer tax on the value of anything over let’s say $2 million so it wouldn’t affect family homes but the uber-rich on the lakes could pay one per cent maybe or half a per cent or something like that. So that’s something I would consider looking at if we had that power. We don’t have that power. The answer to Ms. Peterson’s question is we have partnered with a developer, we put up a piece of land on Sabrina Park Drive that someone forgot to pay their taxes on so it became the municipality’s and we partnered with them to build more housing, at least 50 per cent of it is committed to be affordable, and affordable is defined as CMHC numbers…” [end of allotted time]

Candidates for Town and District Council

Nancy Alcock (incumbent): “I agree with the mayor, I think that this council has worked extremely hard. As most people know, the whole issue of affordable housing or attainable housing is a District responsibility but what’s easily recognized is it can’t do it on its own, so our municipality has been looking at all kinds of tools that we can use such as taxing permit financing or turning over land towards a development or waiving municipal fees, but most importantly working in partnership with the private sector and building new mixed development communities. I think that’s one way that we might actually be able to start achieving some of the goals that we want to.”

Helena Renwick: “In the time that I’ve been wandering around and speaking to people, that has been the biggest question and the most important question I’ve been asked was about affordable housing. And in particular the young couples that I meet and young people that I meet and even seniors are asking about affordable housing. I believe as well that this council has worked towards bringing affordable housing to the community. I think there are still new and better ways to do that as well. I know it is, as Councillor Alcock mentioned, it is a District responsibility but there are ways that the municipality can work with developers, tax reductions on development fees, there’s lots of things that we can do but seriously that is the one question that I’ve been asked, ‘can we get more housing and can it be affordable?’ Yes.”

Brian Thompson (incumbent): “The affordable housing aspect of it I think has been covered off fairly well so far. One area that hasn’t been touched, and I think an area of opportunity for the town of Huntsville would be lifestyle developments. And a lifestyle development, if you go to Gravenhurst you’ll see a lifestyle development that’s done very very well down there and these kinds of developments are really designed for people that want to retire, one floor living, probably on a slab, large bedroom and small guest room so that when the kids come they’re not feeling comfortable that they stay for very long. That’s sort of the idea behind that and I know at one time there was a plan in place up Earls Road and that plan may still be in effect, I’m not sure. …I think that would be another area that would definitely improve the housing situation here in Huntsville. As far as the land transfer tax, absolutely not. Never, never as long as I have a role on council.”

Bob Stone (current Huntsville Ward councillor): “So yes I do believe that there is a crisis in the lack of housing which affects not only people that want to come here but businesses that need to attract employees, so it’s affecting economic development in a very serious way and it’s going to get worse in the future, I believe. We need to continue to work collaboratively with developers in the area. We have some tools at our disposal that we are using right now on Sabrina Park Drive to work together with them in order to get the job done, get more housing, and I agree with the mayor that it should be mixed housing, never just attainable housing.”

Tim Withey: “I think this problem is a little more multi-faceted than perhaps what has been explained so far. I think one of the issues that you’ve noticed that the growth in the communities to the north of us have happened since the dual-laning of the highways is because of the tax base up there. I think one of the things people move up there, it’s not just for lack of housing, it’s being able to afford the taxes in this town as well. I also work in my work life with a lot of developers and contractors around that do have a lot of trouble with red tape at both levels of government getting these developments off the ground. I think we need to work more collaboratively with these people and work at looking at waiving development fees and things to get all kinds of mixed housing, which I think is important, off the ground. There’s a lot of moving parts to these things, it’s never an easy one-sentence answer for this kind of problem.”

Brunel Ward candidates

Dan Armour (incumbent): “Affordable housing is something we’ve been working with with the current council. We have two developers currently in our area that are very interested in building some attainable and affordable housing. I believe I read an article just recently…that talked about some money coming from the District where people can apply for $75,000 towards affordable housing so that’s something else that’s important for people to realize is there is money out there and we need to open the avenues up for people to be able to access that money so they can afford to build new homes and become an active part of our community. Housing is something that’s very important to people, it gives people stability, it gives them purpose. Absolutely. And for the tax, that’s a no.”

Ken Inglis: “Affordable housing is a term that I’ve heard so often but I really don’t, I can’t say what is affordable housing? Is it geared to someone’s income or is it geared to disabilities and inability to work? I really just have to learn more about what affordable housing is and how the funding will happen for it. Having not been involved in these discussions, I don’t know really what to say about affordable housing other than certainly everyone should have a decent, clean home to live in.”

There is a problem with homelessness in our community. In fact, there have been many stories of homeless people camping in our forests and provincial parks over the summer. With winter coming and the fact we no longer have a men’s shelter, how do you plan to address the homeless in the short term and also in the long term? (Submitted by YourTV Muskoka)

Mayoral candidates

Peggy Peterson: “I think that is one of the most critical questions of day because it reflects on our community. I spent two hours with Heather Berg going over the status of her presence and the men’s shelter and what happened in all of that. What I see is that this town really cares and we have a serious homelessness problem. The province mandated a study across Ontario and it was done locally and we can honestly say that we have 74 homeless men on paper which means we probably had at least twice that because they are a reluctant crowd to come forward and fill in a document. We have a problem with homeless youth, we have a problem with very serious drug addiction issues, and all of these reflect on this community and they all our responsibility to look forward. We have to change how we are doing this. We can’t let this slope of homelessness and poverty carry on.”

Scott Aitchison (incumbent): “I think this speaks to my previous answer when I think housing is the most important after healthcare. The District of Muskoka is responsible for housing issues and of course they work diligently to ensure short-term emergency shelter is available. I just had a meeting with Heather Berg yesterday. The shelter is reopening which is good news. There’s always more that we can do, but at the end of the day the Town of Huntsville doesn’t have big cheques that we can write to solve this problem. We need to partner with organizations, we need to work with the District of Muskoka and the Province of Ontario and we need to make sure that we are working at all angles on the housing issue whether it’s someone buying a house or whether it’s somebody who needs emergency shelter. Housing is the second most important issue facing this community and I think the questions so far have proven my point with that.”

Candidates for Town and District Council

Bob Stone (current Huntsville Ward councillor): “I do understand that homelessness is a District issue, however all of our citizens in Huntsville are our responsibility. Like the Mayor said, we don’t have a big cheque to take care of this problem, but we do have the ability to take certain steps with other organizations. And this hasn’t come across the Town Council table for discussion or solutions yet, but I believe it should. They are our citizens.”

Tim Withey: “This is a very important question and really I think when you think about getting to the root of all homelessness, it really starts with health care and in particular mental health care. This is something that we discussed many times at the LHIN [Local Health Integration Network] table. I think it starts with the Province injecting more money into mental health care which will help to keep some of the homeless people off the street in the first place. Obviously this all dovetails with housing as well and helping these unfortunate souls to have places to live. When I was younger and in Toronto, there used to be the Clarke Institute on College Street that no longer exists any more. It starts, unfortunately, at the Province, and the District plays a big role in that which is why I am anxious to hopefully get elected to that table because I think with my experience with the LHIN and dealing with the Ministry of Health we can tackle the root of the problem as well as look at housing issues.”

Nancy Alcock (incumbent): “The District actually has a homelessness strategy that is almost 10 years old…the process to rewrite it is going to happen within the next few months, at least it will start. When they developed the last strategy, they looked at a number of the causes and they’ve been mentioned tonight. Mental health and lack of housing and addiction issues. So the District, in the best way they could, did actually adopt outreach programs, did investing in housing to meet some of those issues. Clearly, it’s not enough. We need more money and we need more staff, that’s the answer, at least that’s part of the discussion. But more importantly it’s collaborating with the agencies that are doing things on the ground like the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit…” [end of allotted time]

Helena Renwick: “I think this is an incredibly important question. Interesting, I had lunch with a woman last week and she told me that she was living on the street, or had lived on the street, and she said to me, ‘if you got elected what would you do?’ And I agree this is, it could be a District issue but these are citizens that live in our community and I think our municipality, our councillors need to do something about this. And I think rather than looking at them as a problem, I think it’s more of a challenge for us as a community to come up with creative ideas in how we can help these people. And I think what Mr. Withey said about mental health issues, there are so many components, but I think it’s an opportunity and almost a challenge to say how can we come up with a creative way to help these people. Co-operatives. I was at a planning meeting with Mr. Mike Harrower and he was saying we need people to think creatively and outside the box to come up with new ideas.”

Brian Thompson (incumbent): “This is an issue that I think for most of us definitely flies under the radar and it’s at moments like this I guess that it becomes if not top of mind then at least in our minds that there is a problem out there. I would agree with some of the comments that have already been made, and believe me I’m hardly an expert in this area, but it would seem that from what I’ve read and what I’ve understood the problem usually starts with a mental health issue. I think the District does what they can in terms of providing immediate relief for anyone that needs it, in other words they are working in collaboration with the Salvation Army and so on and different hotels and motels around town so if someone finds themselves on a cold winter night, there are solutions to that particular problem.”

Brunel Ward candiddates

Ken Inglis: “I had a family member who also had mental issues and homelessness issues. It’s a real challenge, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we could possibly afford something large enough. I’m kind of picturing sort of like a hotel where you would put people up until they get on their feet but I don’t know how that could be done. We would have to work with the Province and the District, and I don’t even know if that would be a good idea but we do definitely have to do something to help these poor unfortunate people.”

Dan Armour (incumbent): “This is a Huntsville issue, a District issue a Province issue, a Canada issue, a worldwide issue, actually. I don’t think that we’re going to be able to find a quick fix here tonight. I think the first thing we need to do is treat the mental health issues that are out there and we need our province and our federal governments to invest more money into our smaller communities so we can address the issue…it is an issue, it’s right out there, we just don’t see it in front of us. I don’t know if we have a quick fix, but I think we need to lean more on the province or federal government for stuff like that.”

Related:

All Candidates Forum: Huntsville candidates weigh in on healthcare and future hospital debt

All-Candidates Forum: Waterloo proceeds and the second-most important issue in Huntsville

All-Candidates Forum: Where do local District candidates stand on the size of District Council?

Questions at all candidates meeting in Port Sydney as diverse as the candidates

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5 Comments

  1. This was a very interesting and important discussion. Several of the candidates mentioned “mixed housing”‘, and this is paramount; as it eliminates the NIMBY problem, and makes the renters or those with less imposing homes feel more worthy. I don’t believe that anyone mentioned persons with disabilities as a group requiring affordable/accessible housing. I read recently in this publication that a developer of an 8-plex (in an area only supportive of a 7-plex) traded his second-storey balconies for first-floor accessible units. The interesting fact here was that when Planning Committee had previously complained about lack of amenity space, the developer had trumpeted his balconies. And the Mayor agreed that, yes, there wasn’t enough parking allowance for even one designated accessible space; so a PWD would have to look elsewhere. Wasn’t it Marie Antoinette who said “Let them eat cake”? But there’s a definite dearth of “cake” in our town.
    .
    Regarding homelessness, two of the candidates respectively mentioned the Clarke Institute or possibly hotels. The concept of so-called “warehousing” was discarded ten years ago as detrimental to mental health, drug use, and self-esteem. Mental health disabilities are often the precursor to drug abuse, and to alleviate the concurrent disability; more monies must be directed to the mental-health portion of the health-care dollar.

  2. If a person is allowed to buy an “affordable house” at a lower price because the builder was given public-owned land and other cost breaks, there must be a way to prevent the buyer from flipping the house at a higher “market price” to make an unfair profit, at least for a reasonable period of time.

  3. Kathy Henderson on

    I guess I haven’t been paying attention but it seems to me the closer we get to election time the more “concerned” for affordable housing has come up. I know people that have lived here all their lives and their home is paid for and with the rise in costs with almost everything, they are finding themselves coming into the same problem. Not being able to afford to live in their own home. They do not get any breaks when they try to cut some lots off their property to sell to enable them to stay in their homes. It has been made more difficult and the lot sizes recently changed from 200 ft frontage to 400 ft frontage. cutting their opportunity in half. There goes my moms hopes of staying in her own home. No breaks for the middle class it seems. Farther north is more affordable. If you are lucky enough to find an apartment to rent it is priced so high it is not affordable to any young family working minimum wage jobs. There are not enough jobs in Huntsville for the young to afford to rent or own. A young couple starting out with the kind of part time jobs that are around Muskoka, with no benefits, and where you miss a day you miss a pay. I am still not sure about the giving away land and waving fees. I think you will find that it will be one of the well connected contractor who will get these breaks and not any of the contractors I know who are finding it harder and harder to make a decent living with the red tape and fees. Just my opinion. Moving farther north is looking better and better to me.

  4. Peggy Peterson on

    The conversation about the shortage of housing , the lack of attainable housing and the condition of homelessness has been a serious issue in Huntsville for many years and there were only minutes during the debate to discuss this identified crisis . This issue was an election issue during past terms also and yet the election comes around again and nothing has really changed . This is another one of the my reasons for challenging the incumbent and is good timing to have these conversations in public. Many people have noticed that the thinking over the past twelve years at the council table has changed the dynamic of this community to be a little less compassionate and more focused on pleasing the entitled among us and the voices of the marginal have often been ignored . The tourism industry, cottagers and construction are our economy and this economy exists because of the our shorelines. Our ecology is our economy and we have seen a systemic lack of interest in taking actions to preserve our natural assets and we have continued to do more harm to the very system that provides for us . I have witnessed a real lack of interest in issues related to the welfare of the people and too often I have witnessed that the intention around the table seems to reflect an interest in impressing the rich and entitled instead of the hard work that is needed to include all of the citizens . Historically we have had leadership that was focused on fast and furious development and shiny objects and the necessities for regular residents have been forgotten . This last council made some deals for Town Land Assets that I find shocking including the sale of the Historic Train Station and the land there for 2 dollars to private developers after the taxpayers spent $180,000 repairing the building . Past councils refused to include a requirement for the Empire Lot to include affordable apartments and they refused our request over and over as they went about designing the building for this private land . When the Mayor tells us the town partnered with a developer , one has to ask how this all worked including knowing if there was a Request for Proposal by the developer in an open tender or was the developer chosen for the land giveaway . The inventory of lands that have the potential for housing projects is key because there are limits to what properties we have to work with. We need an inclusive , all parties round table discussion to discuss the issues and come up with a sincere plan that can be implemented sooner than later. We need to be proactive and interested in what other Municipalities are doing to address this issue both for affordable housing and plans for Seniors housing since it is a systemic problem in Muskoka. The Mayor mentioned in the debate that the town had sold off lands that did not make sense for the town to own and I would like to know what guidelines were used for these sales . The District of Muskoka is the tier of government responsible for housing issues and they are actively making it lucrative for builders to build these units. The next Council will have to act on this in a serious way so that during the next election we can see some improvement locally. The recent example of the Town not securing a Location Fee from Hallmark for the rental of our town speaks volumes to me about what has to change. All the business and recognition was great and many local businesses benefitted but this is no replacement for the ten of thousands we left of the table for hosting . The people want to know how this happened since we assumed the inconvenience we experienced was financially lucrative until it was clarified in the Doppler that we had somehow missed that opportunity and that is disturbing . I would also like the Mayor to clarify for people that he did not have a meeting with Heather Berg , he ran into her in town and that is not the same thing.
    I appreciate the opportunity provided by Doppler to have these conversations.
    Respectfully,
    Peggy Peterson
    Candidate for Mayor of Huntsville.

  5. Jim Logagianes on

    Sadly everyone is missing the real problem which is the over regulated housing industry as a whole. Honestly what can a municipality do to address affordable housing? When the province continuously adds more costs to new construction under the disguise of needed regulations.
    Every time I hear a politician mention affordable housing without addressing any of the real inherent problems it saddens me. Mentioning the word affordable throughout your political career does not address the housing or rental problems facing our population.
    If you want to make housing affordable for everyone in Ontario, you need to come up with solutions not lip service.

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