After a special meeting of council held on Monday, September 18, Meaford’s council will ask Grey County to purchase the former Georgian Bay Community School track property to use for a future affordable housing and green-space project.
The special meeting was held at the request of Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney, who noted that council has identified housing affordability as one of its strategic priorities for this term of council, and that Grey County has committed to spending its share of the 2021 PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) settlement related to the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre on a housing project within the Municipality of Meaford.
At the beginning of the special meeting, which lasted more than two hours, council heard a presentation from Grey County’s Senior Policy Planner Liz Buckton that offered some harsh realities for council to consider regarding the affordable housing crisis being experienced by most communities across the country.
In Grey County, the vacancy rate for rental units has been low throughout the pandemic at 1.4 – 1.8 percent, while a vacancy rate of 3 – 4 percent is considered healthy. The social housing wait list in the county has doubled from 2020 to 2023, with 1,500 eligible households now on that waiting list.
Buckton told council that a snapshot of local rental listings shows an average rental cost of $1,850 per month plus utilities, while the salary required to afford that rental cost is more than $70,000 per year, leaving those earning minimum wage ($32,240 per year for full time) struggling to find housing that they can afford.
The challenges are equally daunting in the home ownership market. The average resale price of a home in Grey County is now roughly $712,000, while the household income required to support the purchase of the average-priced home in the county is more than $205,500, meaning that resale homes are currently only affordable to the top ten percent of households.
The median household income in Grey County is $78,000 (average household income is $100,700) while the median individual income is $39,200 (average individual income is $52,200). Meaford’s household and individual incomes are slightly higher than the county, but not by much. Meaford’s median household income is $79,500 (average $100,600), while the median individual income in the municipality is $39,600 (average $52,650), according to Buckton.
The average cost per unit of affordable housing today is approximately $400,000 according to Buckton, meaning a 40-unit affordable housing project could cost $16 million for construction alone, not including the cost of the land.
While housing is not traditionally the purview of municipal councils in Ontario, Meaford’s council has recognized the challenges of both the lack of vacancies and the lack of affordability of homes in the municipality, and they have felt increasing pressure to help find solutions.
Deputy Mayor Keaveney sees the track property at the former school as a potential location for an affordable housing project, and the motion she put forward at Monday’s meeting recommends that council ask Grey County to purchase the property for a future housing and green-space project, with Meaford offering to commit $500,000 toward the purchase.
Though some in the community have long expressed a desire to see the municipality purchase the property from the school board in order to leave it as a green-space with a running track for public use, after council explored that possibility last year it was determined that the asking price is too high for the municipality to consider. Though the school board has not yet made public their asking price, which is based on an appraisal, there were hints at council on Monday, with Councillor Steve Bartley stating that the asking price for the property was “seven or eight fold higher” than what council had expected it to be, adding that it was “not possible for the price they want.” Councillor Harley Greenfield noted that he had heard that the asking price is $3.8 million.
Though the cost of the property has been deemed too high for the Municipality of Meaford to consider purchasing for green-space, Deputy Mayor Keaveney hopes that it could be seen to have potential by the County, which pledged to use its $370,100 share of the 2021 PILT settlement with the federal government toward a housing project within the municipality.
In her motion, which found unanimous support of council, the Committee of the Whole recommended that council ask Grey County to purchase the property for a future housing project and green-space, as well as to request that the County Council direct county staff to prepare a report outlining options for the development of a housing project on the property.
If the property is to be purchased, it must be done quickly, as, though the school board has held off in order to give Meaford more time to consider options, staff noted at Monday’s meeting that the school board will put the property up for sale to the general public likely within the next month.