By Mike Baker
It’s going to take something special to save the 15-unit affordable housing project Places for People is hoping to establish at the Lakeview Motel in Haliburton.
The organization worked quickly on developing a proposal for the site, after the federal government announced back in November that it would be supplying $1 billion in funding under the Rapid Housing Initiative, in an attempt to bolster affordable housing options nationwide. Of that amount, $500 million was made available solely to projects within significant urban areas, with a further $500 million set aside for other proposals, which included both urban and rural projects.
The idea, says Fay Martin of Places for People [P4P], was for money to be distributed to proposals that were essentially “ready to go,” with the government mandating that any project funded under the stream must be completed by March 2022.
Despite meeting the government’s criteria and hitting every strenuous deadline, P4P learned earlier this month that its $2.4 million application was not successful at this time.
That had nothing at all to do with the merits of the proposal, Martin said. The need here in Haliburton County for affordable housing is well documented. Rather, there was a tremendous amount of competition for the funds. There were a total of 679 applications, totalling more than $4 billion, made under the RHI program. Under this first round, the government approved 179 of those proposals.
“We knew we were swimming against the current, we knew the odds weren’t very good. But we also knew that if we didn’t play, then we couldn’t win,” Martin said. “The fact we’ve lost on this occasion is not a bad thing, I don’t think. It’s sad, but not bad. We learned a lot. We’re on CMHC’s radar in a way that we weren’t before.”
That last point is of particular importance, Martin noted. While funded by the federal government, the successful proposals were selected by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. In a letter distributed to P4P, Nadia Venafro, a senior advisor with CMHC, indicated a second round of funding could be forthcoming in the near future.
It was noted that the Places for People application would be kept on file and could be reconsidered should additional money become available.
There is no guarantee, however, that P4P will be able to move ahead with its proposal should they receive the green light several months from now. The project depended upon being able to purchase the Lakeview Motel from owners Holly and John McDonald. While, Martin said, the organization was able to negotiate for an exclusivity clause to be included in the initial offer for the property, that clause expired this month, meaning other potential buyers now have the opportunity to swoop in.
An offer for the property does remain on the table though, says Jody Curry, president of P4P. After learning their project would not be funded by the government, the local non-profit’s senior administration tried to look for other ways to move ahead. They would have been able to secure around $2 million – $700,000 shy of the amount they’d need.
“If a philanthropist wanted to put up $700,000 to help us fund this project, in exchange for a tax receipt of course, we could make it work,” Martin said. “If this money were to come out of the woods, we could rock and roll.”
The appeal behind this particular proposal, to take over Lakeview Motel, was twofold – the building is already in place and is in “fantastic” condition, according to Curry, and there was additional land on the site that could potentially house other P4P developments.
“The big thing about this is that it wasn’t a new development. It was renovating what is already there,” Curry said. “To make it sound very simple, it would have basically been putting kitchens into each unit. It would have been a fast project, which was the entire purpose of this RHI money – to invest in housing that could happen and be brought forward quickly.”
When looking at statistics, Martin says the kind of housing this project would have delivered – being largely one bedroom, bachelor-style units – are what is desired most and in the least supply here in Haliburton County.
Using data from the 2016 census, 76 per cent of the county’s population is made up of one and two person households. Yet, only 31 per cent of the housing stock in the area are one or two bedroom properties.
“This kind of housing would fill a niche in this area that we don’t otherwise have. For the smaller, bachelor units, we have very little that is affordable. This would have sat nicely in our community, and could have provided pretty immediate housing for 16, maybe 20 individuals. Now there’s no plan in place for these people,” Martin said.
And the demand for affordable housing is only going up, Curry stated. P4P is continuously receiving emails from individuals in need, something that has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19. The increase in property prices and rental costs combined with an influx of permanent residents to the area has left a lot of people in a difficult position.
P4P expects to offset some of that through a new development its working on, alongside Dysart et al township, on Wallings Road. That longer-term project will eventually bring 60 brand new units to the community. Curry expects to be able to break ground on that project in 2022.
In the meantime, the team will continue to advocate for projects such as the one at Lakeview Motel.
“People need places to live. That’s why these kind of proposals are so important. Martin said. “I think that’s what I’m most disappointed about right now. With RHI, I thought the penny had dropped, yet the government came up short. The fact they had so many applications under incredibly difficult circumstances shows the government grossly underestimates the need for housing.”