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Next week’s municipal Council meeting in North Grenville is going to set the stage for much of the business Council has prioritised for their coming term in office. Based on commitments made in speeches and interviews since they were sworn in, it is expected that, in addition to the previously existing Committees of Council, new committees will be announced and Councillors will be assigned as “liaisons” with them.

There are plans for a Youth Advisory Committee, an Environmental Committee, and for re-establishing an Agricultural Committee, the loss of which in the past left a void when it came to dealing with the closure of Kemptville College. As all of these committees will be largely composed of residents, it gives the community a great deal of input into policy and decision-making in the municipality, as well as keeping Council informed about what the people who elected them want to see happen over the next four years.

Perhaps the most potentially far-reaching initiative in this regard is the commitment to establish the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. Housing in North Grenville is a serious issue for many residents: in particular, finding affordable rental accommodation. What such housing is available is often of poor quality and at high prices. In some cases, the term “slum landlord” can be applied to the owners of these properties. Most rental units, however, are well-cared for and rents are set at market valuation. Unfortunately, that is often beyond the reach of many young couples, not to mention seniors on fixed incomes.

The problem is that there are not enough rental units, and not all those that are available are suitable for the young families, or seniors, who most need them. We have a growing population in the senior category, and an obvious lack of accommodation for them. I have spoken with seniors who had planned to sell the family home at some point, using the revenue from that sale to pay for place in a seniors’ residence for their later years. But, when they investigated the cost of such accommodation, they found that their income from the sale of the family home would only cover a few years in a senior apartment.

Young couples, especially those with very young children, also find it very difficult to find appropriate and affordable apartments or houses in North Grenville. Buying a house here is increasingly out of their reach, as the price of a new home has matched those in Ottawa, for example. Seniors often need extra wide doors for accessibility purposes, and special walk-in baths, support bars, etc., and these are not part of the kind of uniform houses being built in new subdivisions.

The federal government’s national housing plan will make funds available for more housing that will have a range of models, taking into account the needs of seniors, and the aim is to reduce homeless nationally by 50%. The first National Housing Plan only came into effect in the 1930’s, when building codes and standards were established. This latest update is a welcome initiative, given the rise in the aging population and the needs of single people and young families. There has been quite a significant increase in the number of adults remaining in the family home through their 20‘s, and even 30’s, because they cannot afford a place of their own.

The Task Force on Affordable Housing is scheduled to report in a year’s time, according to Mayor Peckford, in order to have a clear target in view from the beginning. The community cannot afford a report that takes years to complete and is out of date before it can be implemented.

In comments to Council, the Mayor referred to the “incredible talent in individuals and stakeholders in our community that are quite enthusiastic in looking at affordable housing options”. As in so many other areas of municipal government, this can be the key to a successful future for North Grenville. It has been repeated many times in these pages during the past six years that tapping into the tremendous expertise and experience we have in our community is the best way to achieve the highest standards in policy and decision-making.

It is important, therefore, that as many as possible in the community volunteer to join the committees being established, or to provide advice and ideas to them as required.

Buying a home is not always the best, or most desirable option for many. I have been both an owner and a renter, and I appreciate that choosing one or the other can be a matter of where you are in life, in circumstances, or in preferences. At the start of a new family’s life, or as we age and find large houses too burdensome and hard to manage, rental accommodation is definitely preferable. Others want to own a home in which to raise a family, or simply to feel more secure in the longer term.

The residents of North Grenville need to have a choice, require the various options housing can provide. At the present time, that choice is simply not available for too many of us. The Mayor’s Task Force is a beacon of hope for so many. It, and the other proposed Committees of Council, can be the vehicles by which the people of North Grenville can take on their proper role as participants in growing their community in a direction and manner that suits them best. Time to get involved!

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