As a city council we must look at housing in a comprehensive way. Our crisis is more than City supplied affordable or assisted housing. It is a serious situation that requires immediate action.
St. Thomas has a severe housing supply problem.
A shortage of single family homes for resale.
A Shortage of single family homes, town homes, Semi detached, for rent.
A shortage of market rent apartments for rent.
A shortage of Seniors housing.
A shortage of student housing for Fanshawe
A shortage of affordable and assisted housing units for families
A shortage of affordable housing for singles or couples
A shortage of shelter or emergency housing for both men and women.
We can not and must not try to solve these issues one at a time. We are much better served by working on all concurrently and quickly.
I will share my thoughts on some. I look forward to much continued discussion with council and staff for answers and ideas too. We have many groups and agencies already working on parts of this problem. They are an important part of the solution too. The other levels of Government and our neighbouring communities are already discussing solutions and we must work together.
SINGLE FAMILY HOMES FOR SALE: Every community must have housing to grow. Single family homes are the Canadian dream! Detached homes take land, lots of land. St. Thomas must plan for growth today, next year, and for decades to come by planning how we will use the land in the city. Smart and forward thinking land use is what sets great cities apart.
We have great builders that have been designing and building houses as fast as possible. The demand continues to outpace the supply. We must do better. The municipality departments must help, we must continue to assist our builders to construct at a pace never before needed. St. Thomas must have land ready to go to meet todays and the next decades demands.
SINGLE FAMILY HOMES, TOWNHOMES, SEMI DETACHED HOMES FOR RENT: Many families are having to rent longer now before entering the house market as a purchaser. Many have owned homes but are now in transition to other stages in life and other stages in their housing needs. An adequate supply of rental homes must be included in our builders new home building plans. Many of our existing stock of homes must also be available for market rental. The owner of the housing must have the ability to prosper as a landlord in this market place or there is no incentive.
MARKET RENT APARTMENTS: Many “Baby Boom Generation” homeowners and Seniors still in their homes are looking to the market rent segment as the next choice living styles, however, St.Thomas has seen almost no new construction of market rent apartments in a decade. The vacancy rate is close to zero and rents on existing rentals continue to increase. The solution is to increase supply, to build build build. The plan to develop the ALMA school property is a start, however, the demand is for MUCH MUCH more. If we can find other builders to enter the rental apartment building market through zoning, development charge changes and business case presentations we can stabilize rents in the market rent sector. Every area of St. Thomas should have a mix of density. When we build homes we MUST also build apartments and townhomes. We can fill a need in our community and cause more single family homes for sale or rent to come on the market as some owners move to the rental market.
More Market rentals can also be achieved downtown. Firstly vacant land perfect for market rent is available on the Timkin property, on the railway lands throughout downtown and on other infill lands like the Talbot and Ross property and near the Joe Thornton Complex. All have great business potential and would assist businesses in our downtown too.
In the downtown itself many more 2nd and 3rd floor renovations are yet to be completed and rented.A great number remain vacant and not remodelled. This would suggest the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) for this purpose needs “tweaking” .
I also believe we can have much more street level residential rentals by removing more of the restrictions against them. We continue to have empty retail stores on Talbot that have been empty for more than a decade. Converting these to main floor residential is a must. We can not continue to plan on the same way we always have and expect a different result. Street level residential can also offer accessibility not available in upper units. We can be sure the historic character of all buildings can be maintained while also increasing the population downtown for existing retailers.
We have started the process of increasing and modernizing some of St .Thomas’s affordable housing inventory with the new building at 280 Talbot with many accessible affordable units. As the housing shortage is addressed at all levels of housing more affordability will occur. This is a slow process, however we will endeavour to speed it up.
There are a few more areas that co operative effort can help.This can also happen much quicker then new build. Many more of our current large single family homes can be renovated by the owner to include rental space. In some cases it is as simple as renting a room, in others, creating separate apartments. We must work together on the zoning and safety of these units. It will also require the co operation of neighbourhoods. Most of the rooms and apartments created this way will have a level of affordability.
The great work of community groups like Habitat for Humanity make a great difference too! We will be calling on them and other community groups to help with housing projects. We would love to see tiny homes built in St .Thomas as another way to grow quick affordable volunteer driven housing.
These are just SOME of the thoughts to improve the housing CRISIS in St.Thomas. I know there are more ideas out there. Please share your ideas with me. Together we can do more.
In another blog coming soon I will share thoughts on increasing and improving the shelter beds in St.Thomas. A future blog will also demonstrate some great work being done on Youth Homelessness in our Community