High market prices, low rental vacancy rates, and demand on the rise as more people relocate from cities to smaller communities like Huntsville. The housing crisis in Huntsville, Muskoka and Ontario is on everyone's mind. And our club asked Huntsville deputy mayor Nancy Alcock, chair of the town's planning committee, to share her perspective and what solutions are on the table.

A discussion that demands action

Nancy, who is also chair of the District of Muskoka's community and planning services committee as well as the Muskoka Housing Task Force, says regional initiatives to boost attainable housing options, such as rent supplements, financial incentives for builders, homeownership down payment programs, renovation programs and more, have long been available in Muskoka.
 
But demand continued to rise to the point where district council contributed an additional $1 million to affordable housing programs in 2020. The district now contributes roughly $4 million annually to attainable housing solutions.
 
Both the town and district, she said, continued to brainstorm alternative solutions, too, and work with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity to build more units. The district would soon build a 12-unit supportive housing residence for Muskoka youth, for example, in Bracebridge. Could more be on the way?
 
And in Huntsville, she said, some builders had turned their attention to affordable housing construction. Some units were expected to reach move-in-ready condition on Highview Drive this summer, while more were planned for the property in future. And plans remained in place for affordable units on Sabrina Park Drive, despite delays and setbacks. Discussions with other developers and builders on attainable housing solutions were underway, too, she said, as the town tried to work collaboratively on solutions to meet need as soon as possible. 
 
Creativity, however, remained essential as construction costs continued to rise. She noted Jonathan Wiebe, a fellow town councillor, had enthusiastically embarked on a research project into alternative housing options, such as tiny homes, laneway homes and tiny home communities, in the hope of finding an affordable home construction option for Huntsville residents otherwise barred from home ownership. The town, she said, could potentially consider town-owned land for such a project to help reduce costs, facilitate construction and maintain affordability. 
 
When the conversation opened to comments, club members shared their experiences in searching for housing, not only for themselves, but for their staff, prospective staff and people served by their organizations, all of which had become not only unattainable in nearly ever instance, but intensely competitive. Everyone was eager to learn what alternatives could make their way into town council discussion, become part of the conversation and the solution. 
 
Further discussions on housing are anticipated in future.