By Jack Vanderkooy, Board Chair, Habitat for Humanity South Georgian Bay; member of the Collingwood Affordable Housing Task Force, and member of the Institute’s Social Finance & Housing Working Group
In January 2021, Collingwood Town Council, in response to the UN Habitat for Towns: Collingwood World Summit 2020 resolution, unanimously moved to establish an Affordable Housing Task Force to address the acute affordable housing shortage. This issue is impacting businesses, non-profits, healthcare, and government services across Southern Georgian Bay.
Residents of Collingwood were asked to apply to be on this task force, and hence the group included a diverse mixture of industry experts, councillors, and individuals from various walks of life who are directly impacted by the lack of affordable housing.
The task force was given this mandate:
- Investigate opportunities and make a recommendation to the council regarding town-owned lands.
- Monitor and make recommendations for local planning policies that are underway, while keeping a regional focus to closely monitor and provide recommendations to increase affordable housing options.
- Explore and make recommendations regarding current grant/funding opportunities for affordable housing development: new, renovations and conversions.
- Remain connected with and provide support for an action plan for the council regarding Collingwood’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainability Goal #11 pertaining to safe and affordable housing.
Three sub-groups were formed to address the first three items on the list. Members met in their subgroups weekly by Zoom, and bi-weekly as a full group.
A turning point in the work of the task force came after a presentation in early July by Marg Scheben-Edey, a long-time affordable housing advocate, when she shared statistics from Simcoe County Housing Authority on the extent of the crisis – yes, it was a crisis! And if no action is taken immediately, the economic and social consequences will be severe, threatening the quality of life most people have moved here for.
To say that the task force was passionate about their work is an understatement! Everyone put their heart and soul into this work aided by town staff who kept them on track and did much of the writing for the final report. Some task force members also benefited from the cross-over value of the work that the Institute of Southern Georgian Bay was doing on accessing more capital through social finance for housing, towards a sustainable recovery.
On November 1, the task force presented their report to the Strategic Initiatives Committee of the Town of Collingwood, which included town staff and full council. The report was released to the public several days before the public meeting and can be found here.
The report included 60 recommendations, which were prioritized in 7 key points that the council adopted with some minor changes. Most significantly, The Town of Collingwood included in their 2022 budget the following:
- Use 1% of property tax revenues ($350,000) towards an affordable housing reserve fund
- Hire an Affordable Housing Planning Specialist in the second quarter of 2022
- Establish an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee to advise the council on steps to implement recommendations found in the report
During the months after the task force presentation, town staff have been working diligently to prepare a report to the council on how to implement the other recommendations. This report was presented to the council and released to the public on February 28, 2022 and can be found at this link.
The Town of Collingwood has moved significantly to address housing affordability in their community. The need remains, and we hope that with the work of the task force and the commitment from the town, this community will be one that actively promotes “Housing for Everyone”.