Two significant multi-residential projects, if completed as envisioned, could add about 274 much-needed rental units to Huntsville’s housing market. But it will take time to build, and only scratch the surface when it comes to demand, says the developer.
“Right now there is a six to seven-year waiting list for seniors in that area [Huntsville] for housing of any description,” says Teresa Oliver, the developer working on two large multi-residential projects off Sabrina Park Drive and Highview Drive.
“The whole of Ontario is considered in a severe rental housing shortage, and if it is severe now it’s only going to get worse for the next 15 to 30 years as all the baby boomers retire,” says Oliver. She says many people, particularly retirees, move north of the GTA because it’s cheaper. “That’s partly why you have this upward pressure on the rentals. So if we have a seven-year waiting list for a one-bedroom apartment in Huntsville now, can you imagine what it’s going to be in five years?”
She says market studies indicate that Huntsville would need 400 units to keep up with the current market demand. “And between the two projects – Highview and Sabrina – we don’t even have 400 units. It’s not possible.”
The project at 425 Highview Drive has been in the works for several years. If brought to fruition, it would add 127 apartments to Huntsville’s rental market contained in five-three storey buildings on a 1.94 ha parcel on Highview Drive.
Huntsville’s planning committee approved the first phase of the development in August. That’s two buildings with 49 rental apartments to start. The one and two-bedroom apartments will be fully accessible via elevators and be mostly geared to seniors.
Planning committee chair Nancy Alcock says any housing is good. She says as more housing becomes available in the community, as well as housing geared to seniors, it will free up other units for different demographics.
To help with the housing crunch, the Town of Huntsville has entered into a partnership with Craig Developments Inc. by donating land to build 171 new units off Sabrina Park Drive. Twenty-four of those units will be townhouses; some will be for rent and some for sale. The remainder will consist of 147 apartment units made up of bachelors and one and two-bedroom apartments contained in five-three storey buildings. The agreement stipulates that 40 to 60 per cent of the units must be affordable, according to Huntsville director of planning Kirstin Maxwell.
“I believe that every unit that is constructed with an intent to be affordable will help to ease the burden, however, these larger developments will help ensure that people who require more housing options are able to remain in Huntsville,” says Maxwell.
Affordable rentals are considered units being rented at or below 80 per cent of market rents as determined by an annual survey conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). If a unit is constructed for sale, the sale price would fall at or below 10 per cent of the market rate in order to be considered affordable housing.
It will take years to add all of those planned units to the housing market. Raising money and convincing investors that there’s a solid return on their investment is part of the challenge.
“A bank will only value a building based on what it can earn, so you’re spending way more money to build, and earn way less up north than you would in the GTA, and that becomes a massive funding bottleneck to just take on big projects,” says Oliver. “That’s why you don’t see any big projects up north. You don’t see like 1,000 units being built at a time.”
Another issue is trades, Oliver says there aren’t enough tradespeople in the area, which makes building larger projects that much more difficult.
On the other hand, competing for lands to build housing in Toronto with big developers is extremely difficult. “Getting into sort of a financial fight with the big boys for the lots in Toronto was just undoable… so we then chose a niche market where we had less competition and had a chance of devising, which is how we ended up north.”
Oliver said she first became aware of the Huntsville market because the Empire Hotel burned down.
“We were invited to come and take a look at the situation and see if we couldn’t get involved with some development up there. We decided we couldn’t take on the Empire Hotel… because the math wasn’t ever going to work. We were never going to get enough rental income to build and pay for the site… it wasn’t viable in any form,” she said. “But while we were there we started spending more time researching the area and realized there was still a need and then slowly got to one little development at the time.”
On a positive note, Oliver did note that the Town of Huntsville has been extremely helpful in trying to get projects, particularly Sabrina Park, off the ground.
“The Town of Huntsville and the council, in particular, have really done a lot to help speed up some of the processes,” says Oliver. “But you’re dealing with a two-tier government and it’s still incredibly onerous.”
In the meantime, she said she will continue to focus on the two projects she’s working on in Huntsville. “We don’t want to take on more than what we’ve got because we’d like to make sure that these are done right, and successful, and then from there make a decision,” she said regarding the possibility of working on more projects.
Planning committee chair Nancy Alcock says she’s hopeful that the number of rental units planned for Highview Drive are built, particularly given the need, but she’s also a strong proponent of doing it right.
In terms of the Sabrina Park project, she says council has great expectations for that development. “We have great expectations on that. We want it to be a community that people say ‘oh, that’s how it’s done.’ So there’s always a bit of nervousness about something like that because… it’s so easy to miss certain steps and you can’t afford to miss those steps.”
Alcock maintains that the Sabrina Park project has to be a mix of an affordable and at market housing community, without stigma.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!