Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus launches plan to build 7K rental units by 2030

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When asked why the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) is trying to build 7,000 rental units by 2030, chair Peter Emon responds, “if not us, then who?”

The newly launched “7-in-7” campaign, spearheaded by the EOWC, aims to build a minimum of 7,000 affordable rental units in the next seven years and will tap into various industries, trades and levels of government across the region to get the job done, said Emon. 

And there’s lots to do to keep the plan in motion, he added.

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Representing 13 municipalities over 50,000 square kilometres, the EOWC met in the summer of 2022 to discuss waiting lists for affordable housing across the region. 

“Our service manager showed 16,000 people on the waiting list for between four and 10 years,” said Emon. “We’ve since found out through Statistics Canada that we have about 42,000 people now looking for housing. It was already serious, and it’s getting much more serious.”

The 7-in-7 campaign will involve 265 parcels of surplus municipal land contributed by the EOWC, Emon said, and has the potential to attract additional developers.

“We found if we were to build 7,000 units, it would generate a further 21,000 units held by the private or not-profit sector,” explained Emon. “So with that land, it will attract the other builders, and they have the capacity to do even more.”

With a combination of community and market-rate units, the campaign is projected to build a total of 28,000 units, said Emon, with the possibility of even more. 

“We always exceed our targets and there’s always room for additional investment and additions to the project,” he said. “We work to the max of the budget and extract as much value as we can.”

The campaign, which has been assisted by Haliburton business management firm KWM Consulting, will bring on local developers and trade teams, Emon said, and help to stimulate the economy across Eastern Ontario.

Currently, the EOWC is working on “pre-qualifying” builders and developers, as well as breaking the region into six project-build areas, Emon said, but until financing is secured, the specifics of the projected units are “not nailed down.”

“Every area across Eastern Ontario will be somewhat different. Some are more rural, others are urbanized, and each of the areas will be considerably different,” he explained.

Early projections include 688 units near Prescott, Russell and Cornwall; 1,300 in Kingston, Frontenac, Leeds and Grenville and Lanark; and 587 in Renfrew County, he said, emphasizing the proximity of these municipalities to Ottawa. 

The costs to build the units are also unconfirmed, but Emon said “host communities” can expect a return of three times the cost per unit. The EOWC is also confident the project will bring “significant” employment opportunities and boost the economy in more “forgotten” ways.

“One of the things we’re hearing from the area is that, as things tighten, workers move further away from their workplace and commute and then they’re looking at other workplaces that are closer to their home,” said Emon. “If we build housing our workforce can afford, there’s a long-term benefit.”

Due to the variety of unique and far-flung communities that make up Eastern Ontario, Emon said many different developers and contractors can take part. 

“There’s not one lone company that’s large enough to cover the whole area, so it makes sense to use these six smaller areas, and then there’s further downsizing within those areas,” explained Emon. “Renfrew County is about 7,700 square kilometres and 40 to 50 hamlets, towns and separate cities that could host a package of homes.

“Same with near Kingston and Frontenac. I’m not sure there’s a developer interested in those individual areas,” he continued. “There’s a number of small communities that could host and I’m not sure one contractor could encompass all of it, so they’re looking at some unique opportunities.”

The EOWC is “optimistically” hoping to hold demonstration projects in the spring, Emon said, but that will depend on participation from various levels of government.

“Financial support is pretty critical. We’re pretty certain we will need buy-in from senior levels of government,” said Emon. 

In October, the EOWC visited Parliament Hill to meet with local MPs and some senators, Emon said, to introduce the government to the plan and seek advice. MPs Scott Aitchison, representative for Parry Sound and Muskoka, and Jenny Kwan of Vancouver East, expressed their support for housing solutions, he said. 

“I can say all parties were quite enthusiastic that day,” he said. 

The EOWC will head to Queen’s Park on Thursday to meet with MPPs and “continue working towards getting both private and public capital lined up,” Emon explained.

The EOWC will continue working on its financial model and consulting working groups of regional home builders, who Emon said have been checking that the 7-in-7 plan “touches all the bases.” In addition, municipal staff will continue looking at streamlining the planning process and identifying parcels of land. 

All in all, Emon said the EOWC is confident about the future.

“There’s lots to do, so we’re quite happily busy. It’s nice to be doing something that’s of benefit to our whole community, because housing first is very important,” Emon explained. “It contributes to healthier and safer and more vibrant communities and doesn’t hollow out communities by making people transient.

“Housing has been an issue that’s been kicked back and forth between senior levels of government. Other governments don’t have the local knowledge to put together a project of this size,” said Emon. “But we’re of the opinion that if we don’t do something about this, nobody will. If not us, then who? The answer is, probably nobody.”

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