A few weeks ago, I attended a session on housing in Lunenburg presented by Project Lunenburg. The Lunenburg Fire Hall was packed with people deeply engaged in lively conversation. It was excellent.
The purpose was to talk about some of the issues that the town of Lunenburg faces in terms of housing and offer some creative solutions about what can be done to help solve the issue.
And what is the issue? Simply put, the town needs more housing options. That’s pretty simplified. You can learn more about it at projectlunenburg.ca. Basically, there are too few long terms rentals, plenty of vacancies due to summertime residents, not enough housing options in general, and the feeling that the popularity of Air B&B’s isn’t helping matters. The issue is complicated so the solutions aren’t going to be simple and will require more than one way of tackling the issue.
However, the good news: I was utterly blown away by the commitment of the town to initiate this conversation, by the committee who hosted such a meaningful session and the community who responded to the invitation to be part of the solution. Being at several community engagements, I can say, this one was good! Now, the challenge is to listen.
The voices at my table were diverse. There were seasonal residents, retirees, people looking for options, and of course, myself. While I’m not a resident of the town, it’s my job to help bring more residents here, so I felt it was appropriate to attend. I’m grateful that no one kicked me out. I felt that my perspective was welcome.
The truth is that the feeling of housing insecurity is one I know all too well. I was one such person, 20 years ago, on the hunt for an appropriate rental, having to move to an adjacent town to find one. I know the anxiety that creates, and at least once a week I receive a call from someone just as anxious as I was with a familiar story that I had. I try to connect them with potential landlords. I can’t always help, but in some cases we have.
It’s easy enough to say, just build more housing. The costs of building are only getting more significant making rent prices high. Housing developments are often met with resistance by neighbours. Prohibiting Air B&B’s, even if it was possible, would only create another issue of not enough accommodations, which would significantly impact our most significant economic driver; tourism. So, we’re going to have to get a little more creative.
This is just one example of the creativity I’m suggesting: Occasionally, people come to Lunenburg County for temporary work stays. I recently learned of a medical practitioner who will be joining us for 3-months and is struggling to find temporary housing. Since 14% of dwellings in Lunenburg are owned by seasonal residents, who leave their homes vacant, what if there was a way to take an inventory of the seasonal residents and connect them to the folks who are here temporarily, who might actually love it so much they won’t want to leave?
McAdam, New Brunswick listed 16-lots for the low, low price of $1, attracting people from Ontario and even Nova Scotia. Those 16-$1 lots will create a lifetime of increasing tax-revenue. Also, what about co-housing? The Treehouse Village Ecohousing project in Bridgwater is solving a housing issue in Bridgwater. It’s not going to answer all housing issues, it’s not going to appropriate for everyone, but it does show the creativity needed to tackle these complex issues.
Aside from buying a second home to rent it out, or selling your own home to someone else, you may feel as though there is little the average person like you, and I can do, when in fact, we can all help in a small way. You can keep your ear to the ground for places that are coming up, and for those who are in need of accommodations and connect the two. If you have space available, consider making it accessible to others. Learn about what groups such as the South Shore Housing Action Coalition are doing to tackle the issue at sshac.ca.
And of course, continue talking about it, just like they did a few weeks ago that evening in Lunenburg.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.