Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS) is striking while the iron is hot.
With homelessness and the need for affordable housing hot button topics in both the counties it serves, the agency found a good time to consult on its five-year policy and action plans.
On Monday in Picton, the agency conducted the second of two visioning days on the subject. The first was held in Lennox and Addington County last November.
Stakeholders gathered to review PELASS’s existing 10-year plans and give feedback on strategic topics like eviction prevention, tenant relations, supporting seniors, mitigating problems caused by homelessness and addiction, and improving community information sharing.
PELASS housing manager Annette Keogh said the agency completed a long-term plan in 2014, then received a provincial mandate to update it.
Keogh said the process got a good start in November that helped shape the conversation for Monday. She found the discussion was productive yet again.
“The community is really engaged on affordable housing issues. The timing is right, I think,” she said. “ We’re going to be greedy. We actually want all the ideas we can get. We have to write a plan that encompasses short-term solutions right to long-term commitments — from an emergency shelter to home ownership.”
Following the sessions, Keogh said a plan will be drafted for review by both councils and the province and then implemented. That will mean more consultation with agencies that work on the front lines of the social impact of precarious housing.
“That’s when the work starts,” Keogh said. “We’ll have more of these where we talk about how we get from Point A to Point B.”
A highlight of Monday’s session was a summary report from Community Futures of Prince Edward/Lennox and Addington about Ryerson University research into Prince Edward’s housing market. The December 2017 study, entitled Putting the Pieces Together: A Toolkit to Promote Housing Affordability in Prince Edward County focused on local workers and millennial entrepreneurs making $35,000 individually or less.
Using Census data and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics, they determined that market rents in that community — averaging $874 a month (perhaps lower than reality) meant 90 per cent of units were unattainable for people in that class.
They looked at four guiding principles of increasing housing supply, diversifying housing types, making strategic investments, and enhancing partnership and collaboration, then made 23 suggestions for policy initiatives that county could try.
The tools included incentivizing development of affordable housing, considering land trusts or social funding, creating less restrictive zoning standards, investigating alternative housing like tiny homes or retrofitting unused municipal buildings, creating work-at-home solutions, and regulating short-term accommodation to protect the rental market.
Though the presentation was Prince Edward-focused, Keogh said the tools could be applied to any municipality looking into improving and diversifying housing stock.
Greater Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester agreed.
“Even though their pressures are a little different than ours, it’s all due to a shortage (in affordable housing units),” she said. “These tools are geared to things we can use as far as zoning, inter-generational housing, tiny homes, coach houses, and additional suites. There’s lots of good information within that report, we can use that to get the general public to change their thinking and find innovative ways to provide more affordable housing stock.”
Isbester added with an aging population, there’s a need for more accessible and social housing in Lennox and Addington now, making decisions over the next five years very important.
“We need to provide housing for each and every person,” she said, adding the issue of homelessness is also front of mind and that’s tied with health, mental health, and community services.
“Things change and we need to have a plan to go forward. We’re trying to find a direction that’s going to work these next five years.”
She said this year it’s particularly tough to make that plan as the new provincial government is trying to find its feet and a federal election is coming this fall. Both may impact anticipated National Housing Strategy funding.
That said, she found the sessions a useful way for councillors from both communities and PELASS staff to gather information to shape the plan.
“You could feel a lot of energy in that room. There’s a lot of passion and a lot of care.”