Economic group creating task force in Almaguin to ease housing situation

By Rocco Frangione
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The North Bay Nugget

Almaguin Community Economic Development (ACED) is creating a housing task force to help alleviate the housing shortage in the region.

Dave Gray, ACED’s Director of Economic Development, says since announcing the initiative, five area town councils have voiced their support for the Almaguin Regional Housing Task Force.

They are Sundridge, Armour, Perry, Strong and Ryerson.

Gray says ACED will talk to anyone “who wants a stake in the conversation” adding in addition to municipal representation, the task force could include the District of Parry Sound Social Services Administration Board, local developers and large employers. Gray says large employers could be included because it’s commonly known that they have difficulty attracting or retaining workers due to a lack of available or affordable housing in Almaguin.

Gray says this shortage may affect “their ability to grow and create jobs”. And when they are creating jobs, the workers are not able to live locally. Gray says they will likely live outside the district, like in Muskoka District and Nipissing District, meaning good wages are leaving the area, something he calls “economic bleed”.

Gray says once formed, the task force members will do a situational analysis and identify things like Almaguin’s strengths and weaknesses, in addition to threats and opportunities. Once all these factors are determined, Gray says the task force can start identifying the core actions that need to be taken to help create an environment for more housing. Gray says two strengths he can think of immediately that are present in Almaguin are land costs are still reasonable when compared to other areas and developers don’t face development fees as is common in larger centres.

“Then there are the weaknesses,” Gray said. “What factors hold us back? Could it be broadband or municipal services or even zoning bylaws that present a challenge to developers?”

Gray said a threat the region faces is that recent interest in the area began to drive housing prices higher since people were willing to pay more and that has made it harder for the locals to find affordable housing.

Another threat is how the short-term rental economy has seen existing housing stock get eaten up and used for only a small percentage of the year which further disadvantages local residents from getting a first home or being able to rent.

Gray points out these factors are hurdles to individual municipal growth and the municipalities miss out on growing locally when a large manufacturer expands. But even if housing can be built in Almaguin, Gray says it would be a challenge nowadays to build a detached home in a size most people look for when buying.

Gray says a few years ago this would have been getting a home in the $250,000 to $350,000 range, a price point that’s referred to as the Goldilocks Zone. He says a home in Almaguin at those prices may no longer be possible. But he adds out of this obstacle also comes opportunity.

One opportunity is considering constructing Tiny Homes. Gray says some communities encourage them and others don’t. He says this is an issue that may need to be addressed.

Then there are multi unit residences like apartment buildings and row houses which are a rarity in the Highlands.

Gray says a good approach for the task force once it’s fully formed is that it not be overly restrictive on the upcoming conversations to discuss housing options.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.