Housing in the Highlands – unpacking the ‘elephant in the room’

By Emily Stonehouse
Without a doubt, housing has been one of the hottest topics for discussion in recent political navigation. Affordable housing, supportive housing, housing for seniors, housing for staff. It’s a never-ending cycle of questions met with limited answers.
The 2023 Haliburton County Housing Summit hopes to answer some of those questions.
The full-day session on April 5 will be held at the Minden Hills Community Centre, and aims to address some of the “elephants in the room” when it comes to housing needs in the area.
One of the keynote speakers of the day is Lori-Anne Gagne, the CEO of Victoria Park Community Homes (VPCH) based out of Hamilton.
VPCH is one of largest non-profit housing corporations in Ontario, and manages a portfolio of over 3000 accommodations across southern Ontario.
Gagne will be presenting on the success and mission statement of VPCH, but the unique component of her presentation will be her involvement in the Hamilton is Home coalition for the past four years, which is an organized group of interested parties who advocate for and establish housing for everyone in need.
“We are flipping the narrative,” Gagne told the Echo, “and we are showing the possibilities that can come as a collective.”
Gagne shared that there were many organizations and concerned citizens in the Hamilton area who were focused on making housing a priority. There were also decades of miscommunications between city councillors and staff, and non-profits in the housing sector.
Hamilton is Home was designed to be accessible and available to anyone interested in making a difference. “Everyone is welcome as an associate member,” said Gagne, “it’s all about sharing information.” Consisting of community housing providers, the group remains non-partisan, with a mission of working with elected officials to streamline tangible change. “We meet every two weeks, even all through the pandemic,” said Gagne, “and now we have MPs and MPPs joining us, people are interested in seeing how we can work together.”
Gagne admitted that to get the idea off the ground, they had to be “a little bit relentless” when making presentations. They were dedicated to standing in front of city councils and members of parliament to get their non-siloed approach to community housing off the ground. The organization has a goal of completing 3000 units in three years, which according to their website, is a feasible goal, not a fantasy.
While Gagne noted that the needs for housing in Hamilton are varied from the needs in Haliburton County, she shared that she believes many of the practices can be applied in a similar format. “More rural areas have different challenges,” she said, “it’s a different snapshot of people, but I think we can look at the big picture together, and we can work at involving the right folks to do that.”
Gagne said that a key to the Hamilton is Home success was the fact that they were able to attain a city planner in their coalition. This gave the group the opportunity to navigate around the red-tape before making presentations to city councils. “We were able to streamline many of the processes by having those things in order,” she said.
Gagne is amongst a series of speakers who will be presenting at the Housing Summit on April 5. Others include Jennifer van Gennip, director of communications and advocacy for Redwood Park Communities, and Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development for Indwell and Flourish Community Development Cooperative Ltd.
Facilitated topics of discussion will include but not be limited to; worker housing, private market housing that accommodates seniors, alternative housing options, the hybrid mortgage model, and more.
All are welcome to attend the summit on April 5 at the Minden Community Centre. No registration is required, and lunch will be provided.