Making a Home, Making a Move

“Affordable” housing is an urgent issue right now especially in our largest cities. We hear about rental accommodation scarcity in Toronto and the under-handed practice of ‘reno-viction’ by landlords attempting to circumvent rent controls.

An Affordable Housing Investment program in Ontario commits $800 million over 6 years – an average of $133 million per year. According to CMHC, the federal government invests over $238 million annually, (through March 2019), to help Canadians in housing need. The provinces and territories match the federal investments with contributions of their own. Nevertheless, these efforts take several years to register any impact while we continue to slip behind.

Across Canada the rental vacancy rate has shrunk to 2.4%. Some provinces with the highest vacancy rates also happen to have the highest average rental costs. This skewed market is another indication that our economic system is seriously broken. Conventional dogma says that the “market” will respond to fill a demand. But the ‘market’ builds to maximize profit, not necessarily maximize benefit for people in need.

“Transparency International Canada studied all residential property transactions in the GTA since 2008 and discovered more than $20 billion in anonymous money entered the real estate market without any oversight or due diligence. During this period, more than 50,000 homes were purchased by corporate entities …” (Toronto Star, March 21, 2019)

We seem to have an abundance of low-wage earners stuck in high-cost urban centres. Yet more remote areas are losing young people but still have a need for new workers. I was interested in a pilot project started by the federal department of immigration based on an earlier trial in Atlantic Canada. It attempts to match skills of immigrants with job vacancies in smaller communities.

“Immigrants will be chosen for the pilot project based on matching their skills to the local needs of their communities. Their professions could come from a variety of ones, such as truck drivers, teachers, lab technicians, etc.”

“What we’re looking for is communities that have two things; jobs to offer newcomers, and a welcoming infrastructure,” [Minister] Hussen said. “What I mean by that, is people who are willing to help in the process of settlement and integration, but also organizations that could do the work in terms of language training and employment support for newcomers.”

“Between 2001 and 2016, the number of potential workers in rural Canada has decreased by 23 per cent, while the number of potential retirees has increased by 40 per cent … Rural Canada faces particular challenges when it comes to labour market growth and labour market participation,” Hussen said. (Program to bring newcomers to Sudbury, the North, Sudbury Star, January 25, 2019)

If this program is successful, couldn’t it be expanded to all young people who are ambitious enough to make a new start in a new location? Couldn’t a small group of new, and other, Canadians move together to a smaller town with some settlement assistance, providing some social support to each other as they start out?

It seems to me that it would be a benefit to move several thousand young people per year (of all backgrounds) out of crowded, over-priced cities to smaller communities with appropriate job opportunities. “This is a common, common ask — municipal leaders are saying, ‘Please, we need more people, more workers, more families’, [the Minister] said”. A coordinated effort could help to address several urgent problems at once.

Communities chosen to participate in the immigration pilot program will be announced this spring.

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Stroud Arena Makeover

The Stroud Arena is an aging structure that will soon be in need of major maintenance. The Town staff has offered the option of restoring and keeping the ice surface in spite of declining use over the past number of years, or repurposing the space for possible other uses. The Stroud arena currently houses the rink, library, and catering hall.

The Parks and Recreation Master Plan published in November 2016 included a summary of “the most pressing actions for the Town of Innisfil to implement in the coming years …” including the following:

Retain the current supply of four ice pads for the next five years after which arena needs should be re-evaluated to determine:

  • If future arena market conditions continue to support four ice pads (due to softening shoulder and weekend demands, changing participation rates, and the City of Barrie’s plans to construct an arena in its south end which has the potential to significantly reduce non-resident rentals in Innisfil);
  • whether one of the single pad arenas should be repurposed, potentially for warm recreational uses; and/or
  • whether to twin the remaining single pad arena or expand the I.R.C. should arena participation rates support such an action.

As the 5 year schedule for action approaches, the Town wants to hear what residents think. Should the Stroud ice rink be refurbished? What other uses should be considered if the Stroud ice rink is no longer a priority? Innisfil residents can offer their views through a survey at: Reimagining the Stroud-Innisfil Community Centre

 

 

RVH Wants to Know

It seems like awfully short notice but RVH (officially Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre) is asking for public opinion on five potential sites for a new “south campus”. An online survey is accessible until midnight on Wednesday November 7.

A site selection committee considered issues like access, public transportation, future development and servicing, and potential for expansion in arriving at a short list of five possible locations.

The areas under consideration are:

  • Highway 400 corridor
  • North Stroud area
  • South Stroud/Yonge corridor
  • South Alcona
  • 6th Line & Yonge St. (Cortel development area)

The facility would be developed in stages, beginning with ambulatory care and an outpatient centre “within the next decade”. A full-service hospital may follow in 20 years. The hospital has a web link at RVHPlanourFuture.ca.

Cortel Group ‘donated’ 50 acres in 2009 under the terms that Innisfil would be responsible for recruiting a hospital developer. In 2019 the land reverts to Cortel Group ownership for $1 if the land is not used for that purpose.

Cap and Hide

The outcome of this year’s provincial election is worrying when the apparent campaign front-runner is basing his pitch on a bizarre distortion of the truth.

Doug Ford says he will abolish the “carbon tax” although we don’t actually have one. In an ideological twist, the Ontario Liberals enacted a market-driven cap and trade system while the suddenly-gone Conservative leader had pledged to introduce an actual carbon tax. I tend to think this now-abandoned policy led to Patrick Brown’s swift and abrupt political demise. The Conservative party has invested years promoting a narrative that all government spending is wasteful and all taxes are evil. Brown’s platform was an abomination to those that bankroll the party. Here’s how they put it: “Ontario’s expensive cap and trade carbon tax  … makes life harder for Ontario families and our economy more uncompetitive … We will put money back in the pockets of Ontario taxpayers and stand up for our job creators.” (Simon Jeffries, Conservative spokesperson, April 16)

Cap and Trade is designed to internalize the cost of carbon into the cost of production instead of pushing it, by default, onto the public. It’s not a tax since manufacturers can reduce, or avoid, the fee by adopting cleaner, carbon-free methods of production. Their choice. The most efficient businesses become the most competitive. Under cap-and-trade carbon emissions in Ontario are projected to decline by 8 to 10 megatonnes by 2020.

In the end, some form of carbon pricing is coming. The federal policy mandates it by the end of this year. Ford says he will fight it – abolish the existing cap and trade, and fight any alternative federal carbon tax. So, how many millions of public money is he willing to flush away on government lawyers and court fights?

Cap and Trade generated $1.9 billion in revenue in 2017 ($2.4 billion to date). Here’s what’s at stake:

  • $377 million allocated to fund energy conservation for households and small –businesses
  • $657 million allocated over 5 years for improvements to social housing apartment buildings
  • $100 million to support municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • $25 million allocated for a Low Carbon Innovation Fund to commercialize new technologies
  • $8 million allocated for an electric school bus pilot program

So what is the possible Conservative alternative under Doug Ford? We don’t know. Are Conservatives giving up almost $2 billion in provincial revenue and dumping the associated conservation initiatives? Does Ford think corporations will take remedial carbon reduction action voluntarily? Will we have a Catastrophic Weather Recovery Fund* instead? If he’s promising “relief is coming” for the ‘little guy’ (but he’d lower only corporate taxes and block the minimum wage increase), will he attack the “Sunshine” List” payrolls or follow the usual route of slashing all government payroll and programs?  Is he proud that Ontario is one of the highest per capita carbon emitting jurisdictions? If not, what’s the plan?

Can Ontario afford to elect someone who wants to ‘cap’ the truth and hide from the consequences?

* Check out: Climate Scientists Warn Tipping Point Is Near

Our Place Plan Nearing Approval

Innisfil Council will consider a staff recommendation to adopt the ‘Our Place’ Official Plan at a Council meeting this Wednesday, January 17 and to take effect subject to approval by the County of Simcoe.

I have previously written about Our Place Plan proposals to create various public gathering and event spaces throughout our town. The Official Plan also covers all of the planning aspects related to development, density, zoning, transportation and so on.

Some of the objectives are:

  • direct the majority of growth to the primary settlement area of Alcona; to direct limited growth to Village settlement areas through intensification and on vacant greenfield lands; to limit growth in Hamlets to infill development.
  • Retail is expected to develop “at an appropriate scale in every primary, urban and village settlement.”
  • Direct higher density residential and mixed uses to the major transit station area surrounding the GO station on the 6th Line …
  • Provide a range of lot sizes and densities, housing types and tenures, provided the scale and massing of development is in keeping with the character of the adjacent neighbourhood.
  • Plan to achieve a minimum intensification target of 33% of all new residential units occurring annually within the delineated built-up areas, or as an alternative target as specified by the County of Simcoe.
  • Protect and maintain stable residential neighbourhoods from infill, intensification and built form which is out of keeping with the physical and heritage character of those neighbourhoods.
  • The progression of development within a settlement area “will be based on a sustainable and logical progression of development in accordance with Provincial County of Simcoe and Town policies.”
  • Neighbourhoods are to be designed with a modified grid street pattern that provides for a high degree of permeability and connectivity …
  • Building design shall incorporate principles of sustainable development and, energy and resource efficiency and may be subject to a sustainable checklist prior to site plan approval …

The full Our Place Official Plan document (429 pages) is available from the Town of Innisfil website.

Managing Growth in Our Place

Previous articles have discussed proposals for Place Making in key areas of Innisfil. The draft Official Plan also discusses how the town intends to direct and manage growth in the coming decades. The growth policy depends on a “settlement hierarchy”:

The settlement hierarchy in Innisfil includes:

  • Alcona as the Primary Settlement Area,
  • Lefroy-Belle Ewart and Sandy Cove as Urban Settlement Areas,
  • Cookstown and Stroud as Village Settlement Areas and
  • Gilford, Churchill and Fennell’s Corners as Hamlets

Growth will be directed to settlement areas based on the hierarchy especially toward Alcona as the “Primary Settlement Area”.

The plan states that, “To facilitate intensification while preserving the character of residential neighbourhoods, Strategic Growth Areas have been identified on Schedule A. The majority of the Innisfil’s intensification will be directed to these Strategic Growth Areas. Otherwise, opportunities for intensification are largely limited to infill on previously undeveloped sites, severance of large lots, and accessory dwelling units.”

The plan’s objectives include (p 36):  Continue reading