Suzanne Martineau and Ben Jardine of Muskoka Community Land Trust were before Huntsville’s General Committee on October 25 to talk to councillor about a project that would see the not-for-profit organization create a phased-in 161-unit housing project on a seven-acre property owned by the Town.
Martineau told councillors the organization incorporated in 2021 and has been working on a business plan that could see shovels in the ground as early as next year if the Town agrees to transfer a seven-acre property the organization has its sights on at the top of Florence Street. The lands are ideally situated within walking distance of Huntsville’s downtown core.
She said land trust developments have been tried and proven across the country and are a way of providing much-needed housing in the community. She gave a brief overview of how a land trust would work. First, the organization would obtain the land and develop it. The land would be separated from the structures on it. “We maintain that land in perpetuity and therefore we can control pricing. We can control resale value. We remove it from the real estate market so that it’s not influenced by market fluctuation and then when we offer it affordably at the onset,” said Martineau. “We continue to offer it affordably to the target markets thereafter…”
Martineau said the organization aims to close the gap in the housing continuum. “A household who is earning between 70 and $80,000 a year cannot afford to buy a home. It can afford to buy a home around $300,000 [but]they don’t exist. There’s no rental stock. So everyone who’s out there working hard, they can’t even save for a down payment because they’re paying 50 per cent + for their shelter here in Muskoka. The housing prices are driven out of control, the barriers are great and it’s a vicious cycle that highly affects the health of our community.”
Muskoka Community Land Trust (MCLT) is made up of local community members with expertise in diverse fields. They’ve been working on a plan to create what they refer to as a sustainably affordable micro-community, one which would create much-needed homeownership opportunities, purpose-built rentals and accessible bungalows with the organizaton serving as the land steward.
They were before the committee asking for the parcel in order to start executing the housing plan, an ambitious $56M plan consisting of seven phases. You can find their draft housing plan HERE.
The plan would consist of:
- 65 townhouses for ownership and rent-to-own options
- 72 rental one-bedroom or studio units that could form part of a cooperative
- 12 accessible bungalows
- Two purpose-built rental six-plexes
“We hope the Town of Huntsville sees the value in this ambitious yet very viable business plan,” said Martineau.
Jardine explained the project to councillors and noted that MCLT had been exploring another property in that same vicinity but that the seven acres are much better. “This parcel of land is much more accommodating. In fact, we’re here proposing a plan that’s offering greater setbacks. It’s offering greater opportunity for buffering, more open land, green space, community garden, play area, more space for technical work such as stormwater management, snow storage, waste and recycling collection.”
He said the development proposed would be broken up into phases “so that we can really hit the ground running. There’s no reason with staff and council support that we couldn’t have shovels in the ground in 2024, immediately contributing to a housing solution.”
The green, blue and purple areas above would be built first and comprise townhouses designed, built and sold well below current average market sales, said Jardine.
Councillors expressed the need to tackle the housing issue in the community and welcomed the project. They also heard that Huntsville will be used as a testing ground for similar projects in other parts of Muskoka.
Municial staff was asked to formulate an agreement for the transference of the seven acres of land on the north side of Florence Street, work with MDLT on development options and return to coucil with a report.
A similar initiative which started in 2016 in the Sabrina Park area has proven to be difficult with many closed session discussions held on the issue. “Just going forward we’re going to make sure we cross our t’s and dot our i’s on this one. Land trusts are well known across Canada so they do a lot of buildings like this and they have a good plan,” said Deputy Mayor Dan Armour in a follow-up conversation with Doppler. “$300,000 homes is what we’re looking for and it’s a good entry-level for a lot of people. So I think this is a good move on our part,” said Armour also noting that while Sabrina Park is a private sector initiative, Muskoka Community Land Trust is a not-for-profit initiative.
Huntsville Mayor Nancy Alcock told Doppler she’s very excited about the initiative. “In the Sabrina Park exercise, we had all of the right intentions. We went through the right process, all of that, but it was new to us… you learn,” she said, adding that land trusts are not a new initiative. “There is a whole national association so they’ve got examples of standard legal agreements,” said Alcock, agreements which she said protect the Town’s interests as well as interests of the land trust and they’ve been tried and tested. She also noted that the land trust is a not-for-profit “so they want to achieve what we want to achieve.”
Alcock said the fact that they’re conscious about creating a community, rather than just bricks and mortar, aligns with the Town’s strategic direction. She also said the fact that their board members are as skilled as they are is also very exciting. “They’ve got all of the right ingredients,” she noted.
Alcock also emphasized that “if there’s a general nervousness in the area, I’m not saying that there is about this new Florence Street property, but people may [say]‘oh that’s a lot of units’ but it’ll still go through a planning process. So it’s not like we’re ignoring everything and just slam dunking, it still needs to go through a planning process,” she said, adding, “We want to bring people on board.”
She said she hopes the project is successful and contributes to solving the housing issue in the community.
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!