Small solutions to a big problem

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

I’ve been hearing over and over from locals that while the Ontario government is welcoming thousands upon thousands of newcomers to Ontario, the cost of a home has become unattainable for many. Perhaps it’s time we look for innovative ways to house Ontarians.

Last week while at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, my staff and I ran into Justin Curtin. He’s the Director of Operations at Storage-Tech, a Woodstock-based company that builds flat pack storage containers and modular office units. 

As I looked at his company’s offerings, it occurred to me that these units could be reconfigured into pleasant, affordable dwellings with doors, windows, rooms and everything else required to live comfortably. Essentially, what is known as tiny homes. On the inside, these units felt homey and were complete with electrical outlets and were aesthetically pleasing from the outside. Considering they retail for around $5,000, perhaps we should be examining further the potential of what is known as tiny homes.

Tiny homes are nothing new, and many Ontario companies currently manufacture them. Some might cringe at the idea of tiny homes, but if you’ve ever caught HGTV you understand the potential. I truly believe these could fill a niche market. The average cost of a home in Norfolk County in 2022 was $830,000. Few people can afford the downpayment, along with the accompanying mortgage. 

I researched how other jurisdictions have tackled their own housing and homelessness crises. Finland appears to be a success story.

Finland now has the fewest homeless in Europe. And the government there has set a goal to eradicate homelessness by 2027. They were the first country to adopt a “housing first” strategy against homelessness. 

Back home in Ontario, there could be some answers right on our doorstep, so to speak. I think it might be time for a serious look at affordable housing products as opposed to expensive traditional home builds. We need a varied approach to provide a solution for all. However, right now all we see is an emphasis on traditional home builds that aren’t affordable to most or put the buyer in a tight financial situation. What we don’t see are options, and there needs to be options for every budget.

While tiny homes should be part of a solution, the answer will need to be multi-faceted. I look at the many downtown buildings, in our cities and small towns, as buildings that could be repurposed. Perhaps these could have a future as apartment buildings?

All levels of government are well aware of the details surrounding the housing crisis. What I haven’t yet seen is thinking outside the box. There is talk about meeting home targets, but not targets for getting people off the streets. Lost in the conversation is the fact that one-third of Canadians rented, as of the 2021 census.

While government isn’t always a part of the solution to the housing crisis, it should be in this case when the high immigration rate is one of the driving forces of the shortage. What has also been lost in the conversation is the need to support municipalities to update their infrastructure with all the new housing. To do this on the back of existing ratepayers would add to another of Ontario’s crises  –  the skyrocketing cost of living crisis.

With rising house costs, overpopulation, and environmental impacts, it seems the best thing is to think smaller. Perhaps small spaces will be the next big thing in real estate.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk