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Orillia on target for affordable housing

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

Orillia Housing Resource Centre, operating out of the Common Roof building on Front Street North, is among the various community partners Simcoe County works with to achieve its 10-year affordable housing targets. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Orillia Housing Resource Centre, operating out of the Common Roof building on Front Street North, is among the various community partners Simcoe County works with to achieve its 10-year affordable housing targets. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Orillia is well on its way to achieving its affordable housing goal, with 42 units already built as part of its 2024 target, according to a county official.

The city’s target under Simcoe County’s 10-Year Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention strategy is 164 units, said Arfona Zwiers, the county’s director of social housing.

The number across the county is 420 of the 2,685 total, she added.

The reason Orillia has been able to do so well, said Zwiers, is because it’s in an urban setting with more options available to convert existing ones into affordable housing.

“It’s in an urban setting where there is a fairly healthy supply of rental accommodations,” she said. “And with our programs, we have excellent partnerships with private landlords and with organizations helping people getting housed.”

Although Orillia already has a number of affordable housing units, Coun. Tim Lauer, who is member of the county’s affordable housing advisory committee, said more needs to be done.

The city needs to put in more effort into partnerships with the county, to achieve permanent solutions instead of relying on private developers, he said.

“Some of the affordable housing we created 10 to 15 years ago is due to expire in the 20th year,” said Lauer. “That was the program we bought into originally, where private developers built affordable housing, but it has a 20-year sunset on it. After that, they can go to market rent.”

As presented to council Monday by Zwiers and a colleague, the county is asking for proposals for partnerships Lauer said he would like to see Orillia apply for.

“They sort of supply the money to build and the municipality supplies the land and relieves the development charges and gives other tax incentives,” he said.

This way, added Lauer, the county would not only support the building of units but also run the dwellings, creating long-term affordability.

“Solving the problem isn’t that easy,” he said. “We’ve been quite successful over the past 10 years in getting affordable housing units built; we were kind of ahead of the curve, but it’s a battle you never completely win, so we’ve got a ways to go yet.”

Municipalities can partner with the county by providing flexible zoning, waiving planning and building fees, giving dedicated and fast-track approvals to projects and providing tax incentives, said Zwiers, adding, in response, the county steps in with federal and provincial funding to municipalities and cities.

A number of categories individuals and developers can take advantage of through the county include, rent supplement or housing allowance, home repairs and secondary suites funding and rental development funding.

A study done under the county’s 20,000 Homes Campaign, said Zwiers, revealed of the 300 respondents in the county, 100 are at high risk of being chronically homeless owing to mental health conditions or substance-abuse-related matters.

“That’s a finding that’s pretty much in keeping with some of the trends across the country,” she said. “We know the only solution to homelessness is housing, and to meet our targets, (it) takes the involvement of all levels of government.”

This is being demonstrated by the promise of $13.3 million in funding from the federal and provincial governments made available to the county for the years 2016-17, said Zwiers.

“Some of the funding is going to create new affordable housing while some is being used to do capital repairs in existing social housing buildings (across the county),” she said.

In another project in Collingwood, 117 new units were created while redeveloping a Simcoe County Housing Corporation site, which had 30 older townhomes, said Zwiers.

For more information on eligibility and application procedures, visit simcoe.ca/dpt/sh.

mshahid@postmedia.com

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Housing targets for other parts of the county

  • Barrie: 840
  • Bradford West Gwillimbury: 202
  • Collingwood: 134
  • Innisfil: 224
  • Midland: 90
  • Township of Oro-Medonte: 108
  • Penetanguishene: 44
  • Township of Ramara: 52
  • Township of Severn 68


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