By Mike Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Dysart et al council has some concerns with a proposal that would see the Lakeview Motel, located along County Road 21, converted into a 15-unit affordable housing complex.
This particular project has been in the works for several months, as a collection of municipalities and community groups work together in an attempt to increase the supply of affordable housing across the region. Back in 2019, a ten-year housing and homelessness plan was adopted by both Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes, with an aim to create 750 new units by 2029.
In a delegation to council last Tuesday [Feb. 23], Michelle Corley, affordable housing target program supervisor with the City of Kawartha Lakes, indicated the proposal for Lakeview Motel, brought forth by Places for People, was a vital part of the early stages of the plan.
Corley’s report notes that, this year, there is the potential for 47 new affordable housing units to be created in Haliburton County. Roughly a third of those, 15 units in total, will be situated at the site that currently houses the Lakeview Motel.
As is the case with almost every affordable housing development, Corley explains, there needs to be some level of investment from the municipality that stands to benefit from their creation. Often, developers are offered various incentives to ensure projects such as these are financially feasible.
With that in mind, Corley asked Dysart council to consider waiving approximately $45,000 in permit and application fees to help push through the project. That was a tough pill for some of the community’s elected officials to swallow.
Mayor Andrea Roberts was concerned about the $32,900 exemption requested to cover ERU – or equivalent residential unit – fees.
“I really struggle with that. ERU is a user-pay system. We can’t actually waive that. We would have to actually put money into our own capital contribution for the year. It’s a hard dollar figure,” Roberts said.
While Dysart set aside $10,000 to set up an economic development reserve fund in 2021, that wouldn’t be enough to completely cover the requested ERU exemption.
Ward 2 Coun. Larry Clarke was concerned that Dysart could potentially be investing thousands of dollars into a project that would likely benefit residents from outside the community. Corley previously informed council that the units would be filled by individuals who are currently on a waiting list for community housing, and may not be from Haliburton.
“Around 80 per cent of the applicants [on our waiting list] are local. When I say local, I’m talking about folks from across our service region, so the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County,” Corley said.
That wasn’t the only issue brought up. Ward 4 Coun. John Smith worried about the impact essentially removing a motel from the community could have on local tourism.
“Nobody can argue against the need for more affordable housing… The concern I have with this proposal is all it’s doing is taking one type of housing, called a hotel, and converting it into more permanent accommodation,” Smith said. “Our community suffers from a shortage of housing and accommodations of any type, especially during the summer season. If we were to take taxpayers money and help fund this conversion, we would be creating housing, but that may not even be addressing the real need in our community.”
Smith pointed towards students who participate in the Haliburton School of Art and Design’s popular summer programming as one group that would suffer through the closure of Lakeview Motel.
“These people are often scrambling for all types of accommodation, and stay anywhere in our community… To take this place that, today, is home for many of those people who come to our community for a week or two, or three in the summer and take it off the market… We’ll be scrambling to find a place for tourists to stay.”
With council leaning towards delaying making a decision, Corley said a prolonged wait would be detrimental to the long-term intermunicipal plan.
“We really are working towards this program having a quarterly intake. We want to be able to bring recommendations [regularly] if there are potential projects landing in Dysart. We’re working hard towards meeting and achieving these targets,” Corley said. “We know the need for affordable housing is great, and we’re hoping to be able to attract a lot of interested parties to build this much-needed housing. A lot of times, these types of housing can’t be made affordable unless there are incentives applied to it to make all the budgets work.”
She added, “I’m hoping this will become a regular program, and I’m hoping to seek regular approval for these incentives in the future.”
Wanting further clarification on some points from staff, council elected to push this decision until March 9, when they gather for a committee of the whole meeting. It is expected a final decision over whether or not to support this proposal will be made then.