Mayor and deputy mayor candidates share stances on affordable housing, labour shortages

October 13, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Deputy mayor and mayor candidates in Orangeville voiced their views on a variety of issues during the Dufferin Board of Trade’s (DBOT) mayoral forum late last month.

Doug Harkness moderated the event and asked candidates several questions over two hours with each of the candidates being given two minutes or less to answer.

Here are some of the questions and responses from the forum.

What would you do to address the housing crisis in the community to make it easier for first-time homebuyers to get into the market?

Mayor candidate, Jeremey Williams answered first and said it’s a problem that needs to be addressed with other levels of government. However, he said that doesn’t mean it’s not the municipality’s problem and things shouldn’t be done at a local level.

Williams added that council should be more focused on finances, roads, and maintenance.

“It’s important that we understand our role in government, what we can do, what we can’t do, and make sure we focus on the things that can actually do some good for our community,” Williams noted.

“I’m also a big believer in the economy as a whole will sort this out, we’re already starting to see prices coming down. But it is a frustrating thing and I’ll certainly do what I can to assist with that.”

Fellow mayor candidate and current Orangeville councillor, Lisa Post answered next, saying there’s both a struggle for first-time homebuyers wanting to enter the market due to high prices and seniors who are trying to downsize from their larger homes, without losing all their equity.

She said the municipality needs to do what’s in its control, work with other levels of government, and get innovative. This could involve laneway housing or improvements to building basement apartments.

“We can work with our planning and our bylaw department to incentivize the development of legal apartments to make it more affordable for first-time homebuyers to be able to subsidize some of the cost of living… in a safe legal apartment,” said Post.

She added that this may create other challenges, such as residential parking, which needs to be addressed in conjunction with increasing the supply of rentals.

Also vying for mayor, Kim Reid said there is a program for first-time homebuyers at the county level in Dufferin, where they match dollar for dollar up to $25,000 to help people get into the market.

“Nowadays, you’re looking at families moving in with families because they just can’t afford houses. I mean, an average price in Orangeville is $900,000, and for a small family or a new family, they just can’t afford that,” said Reid. “We need to look at what our options are. Housing – we keep building it, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be affordable. We need to look at what other programs through the province, through federal [government] if possible, are available to help families grow and to find roots in a community.”

Also seeking the mayor position, Jeff Patterson said affordable housing is a complex issue, meaning different things for different people.

He said the municipality needs to work with other levels of government to provide more affordable housing, as cannot be done alone. 

“A great deal of coordination is required with those other levels of government,” said Patterson.

“In terms of what the town can do, as part of that team, is to make sure that it has processes in place to facilitate the speed at which proposals can be heard, can be dealt with, and approvals [are] either given or denied.”

Patterson shared that he recently spoke with a residential home developer who gave up on building in Orangeville because of high costs here that have nothing to do with building a home, leading to higher costs for residents to purchase their first home.

Utilizing his extensive experience in the business world, Patterson said he can work with developers to find solutions.

Deputy mayor candidate Trevor Castiglione said Orangeville has always been a more expensive area and Dufferin is becoming similar in that respect.

“Many people are saying that laneway housing is an answer, legalized apartments is the answer. We need to find ways such as these, I agree, but we have to solve other issues as well. Like where do these people all park when we squeezed them all in?” he said.

Castiglione also noted that the provincial and federal governments are mandating that municipalities have to keep “squeezing people in” and the current council as well as previous councils have voted down many of the development proposals that have been presented.

“We pay for consultants as a council to bring in information about certain developments and how they should be and everything else. And well, council just votes no,” he said.

Castiglione added that when council denies developments that have already been approved, they get taken to the Ontario Land Tribunal and there’s no way to win those cases – council’s hands are tied.

Fellow deputy mayor candidate, Todd Taylor, who’s currently a sitting councillor for Orangeville, said the town needs a strong Official Plan to allow it to deal with developers and ensure plots are set aside for specific development needs.

He also noted the first-time homebuyer program at the county level and programs for rent utility assistance and assisting seniors.

“There is money out there that can help with these things as we go forward,” said Taylor.

“In terms of actual things that we can do, I’ve been on record as saying that I’m in favour of laneway housing, where we can. I think that we should absolutely pursue that.”

Licensed multi-person dwelling homes and garage or basement apartments are another consideration, according to Taylor.

“They have to be licensed and they have to fit in with the rest of the neighbourhood so that we’re not causing disruption while all those things are going on,” he noted.

What actions would you take at the municipal level to help businesses find employees?

Training and development are key to not only finding employees but finding quality ones, said Patterson.

“The town’s involvement in terms of training and development is part of my platform. I want to work with other levels of government, in this case, mostly the province to put in place programs that will help generate professional people, right here in the Town of Orangeville,” Patterson remarked.

He also noted that in the business world, it is a challenge to find good employees and young people need to be presented with different work alternatives, such as the trades.

Patterson said he recently attended an event put on by DBOT encouraging students from across Dufferin to think about a career in the trades.

While it’s a challenge and takes a great deal of effort, the people are out there who want to do a good job, it’s just a matter of finding them, he noted.

Reid said job fairs are important but a big part of the labour shortage issue is transportation. 

With buses not running on Sundays and the taxi system being “very unreliable”, it limits how people can get to work and take on a job, according to Reid.

“I’m finding after the pandemic, there’s more people that don’t want to work than do, and the reason is we’ve kind of switched over to a work at a home-based business. And I think we need to find a happy medium again… where everybody’s working together, and we have systems in place for employees to get to work,” Reid said.

Post said, coming out of COVID-19 some businesses still can’t operate because they don’t have enough employees to keep their doors open.

“My daughter works at Tim Hortons and…they no longer operate a midnight shift because they just don’t have the capacity [with employees],” she explained.

From a municipal level, Post said partnerships with DBOT and the Business Improvement Association for Orangeville, as well as other organizations can help to identify where there are labour gaps locally and help to fill them.

She also noted that building a great community helps brings quality professionals to town, helping businesses fill positions. Building a great town means addressing issues of affordability, transportation and housing where it can, as this will attract employees and enable them to work, Post said.

Williams noted that partnerships are key and enable the town to do great things to encourage and promote jobs to job seekers.

Having attended local job fairs recently he said they’re great for encouraging employment and more of them should be hosted.

Collaboration is key, he noted, as well as providing organizations like DBOT with the tools to reach out and effectively engage people who are looking for jobs, adding that it is what “good government is all about.”

Taylor said the labour shortage is perplexing and he sees firsthand the struggle in finding people.

With that in mind, he noted some of the things the current council is doing.

“For businesses that want to come to Orangeville, we’ve got low development charges for business. There’s low commercial taxes when comparing ourselves to other municipalities within Ontario. There’s the facade improvement program, which helps with our businesses. We’ve just had high-speed fibre optic cable installed,” said Taylor.

“One of the biggest issues within our town is land. Most of the development that’s been done on businesses has been expansions of current buildings, we’re not getting new businesses. The businesses that we are getting are home-based or smaller, and that’s where the economy is going to grow.”

Castiglione said as a local business owner and having managed local businesses over the years, it can be a challenge to secure employees.

“There’s the constant saying by many ‘support local’, yet on a regular basis, previous councils are hiring businesses from out of town when we have many, many businesses here that they should be supporting,” he noted. “They should be advertising these local businesses, helping these businesses to find funding. Do whatever it takes to make businesses succeed in Orangeville, or in the county in general.”

The municipal election is on Oct. 24.

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