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A boost for affordable housing

May 2019

Driving along the provincial highways and roads that were once designated as provincial highways, drivers will occasionally still see a roadside motel, a remnant of the many other motels since demolished that used to temporarily house weary travelers.

The coming of the 400-series freeways across the province led to the end for many of these motels as travelers could get across great distances quicker and easier, bypassing many of the small towns where these motels were found.

Being on the edge of cottage country, Barrie and area once had numerous motels serving travelers traveling from Toronto to Muskoka along Highways 11 and 27. Most are now gone, but one such motel in Barrie has been given a new life and a new purpose.

The opening of Lucy’s Place, in the former Barr Motel on Essa Road in Barrie, will provide a dignified and affordable home for chronically homeless with addiction and mental health issues.

Named in honour of a homeless woman who died on Barrie’s streets in 2014, the 12 living units are complete with beds, kitchenettes and televisions and will serve as transitional homes for up to four years to give 14 people a fresh start.

I hope this is the beginning of a new attitude for providing affordable housing across the board for those struggling to find suitable accommodations.

It also provides a sensible alternative to demolishing older buildings that are no longer wanted by their owners. It seems very wasteful to simply demolish a building if it could easily and economically be converted into affordable housing.

Now obviously you couldn’t take just any building and make it into residential accommodation; for example, an old factory in a still-active industrial area. As well, many older buildings would just need so much repair and remediation (like asbestos usage) that it would actually be cheaper to demolish the building and start new.

However, for what can be saved and converted, this should be the preferred option, especially if it can be converted into affordable housing.

While we’re talking about housing needs, I frequently wonder why the old practice of putting one or two story apartment blocks above stores has fallen out of favour?

Drive along the downtown core of pretty much any municipality and you will see “original” town buildings with apartment units above them.

With many large municipalities dealing with the dilemma of how to achieve their intensification targets without a proliferation of high-rise condo towers, this would seem a reasonable option.

Burlington City Council recently rejected a development proposal for a high-rise development that would have seen an 18-story tower constructed in an area that is currently zoned for only 3-story buildings.

Barrie is the home to Park Place, a 200-acre, mixed-use development composed of retail, commercial and office space on the former Molson Park lands. Originally proposed as a car-free, pedestrian-focused outdoor commercial centre, Park Place ultimately became a big-box retail complex.

Although Barrie City Council fought against a retail development on industrial land that could be used to attract higher paying industrial jobs to a city that already has an abundance of low-paying retail jobs, a residential component could have made it a win-win for the developers and the city.

Many municipalities these days are trying to get more and more people out of their cars and promoting pedestrian-friendly communities and shopping experiences. The original “Village Concept” for Park Place could have at least been partially achieved by constructing three or four stories of apartment units above the stores.

I understand the philosophy behind building tall skyscrapers is that it’s better to build up than build out, which creates more urban sprawl.  It’s better to have higher densities per square kilometre than pave over more and more farmland to build single-family dwellings.  There is merit to that argument, but seeing as we continue to build low-rise retail shopping complexes, perhaps we could achieve our goal of more housing, especially affordable housing, by building apartment blocks on top of these retail developments.  This would reduce the need to build those towering skyscrapers that come with their own negatives aspects ranging from shadowing to creating wind tunnel-like streets (like in downtown Toronto) to just being out of place in neighbourhoods populated mostly by low-rise buildings and single-family homes.

Having a large apartment tower can lead to excessive congestion on the adjoining streets as opposed to spreading out the traffic in more locations by building more low-rise buildings.

I’m in no way saying this is the solution to all our housing issues, especially affordable rental housing, but it is definitely something to consider.

Sources: https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/9291225-barrie-s-former-barr-s-motel-ready-to-reopen-as-affordable-housing-complex, https://www.insidehalton.com/news-story/9279595–excessive-burlington-towers-plan-sent-back-to-developer/

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-boost-for-affordable-housing/

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