From August 21 to 23, mayors, chief administrative officers, and other municipal delegates trekked to London for the annual Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference. Mattawa’s Mayor Raymond Bélanger made the trip as well and emphasized a need to focus on housing within the municipality.
“Housing was a major component of AMO,” he explained, “and Premiere Ford announced $1.2 billion for housing over the next three years and that 10 per cent of that was going to be reserved for smaller municipalities.”
“We’re definitely going to chase our share there,” he said, referring to the housing funding pool. Details on how those funds will be granted remain in the works, but Mayor Bélanger is optimistic that funds will be available.
The municipality has experience in creating housing, as evidenced by the development of Rosemount Valley Suites. The mayor feels this practical experience will give Mattawa a leg up when it’s time to apply for provincial funds.
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Mayor Bélanger noted that the municipality has 240 acres of undeveloped land that would be perfect for housing. The property is near Valois’ Motel and Restaurant.
“That’s just prime for development,” he said. “So I want to see if we can get funding to get that area developed with various types of housing. Tiny homes, regular housing, you name it. We have a council that’s focusing on growth,” the mayor emphasized, “so we’re going to chase it, that’s for sure.”
The conference was inspiring and informative, the mayor explained, offering many opportunities to hear from provincial ministers on pressing topics of the day. The major theme of AMO this year was housing and homelessness, but many other topics were addressed, including transportation funds for connecting links – a funding pool the municipality will also dive into.
Also key was networking with other mayors, especially those representing municipalities similar to Mattawa. Most are experiencing similar issues.
“Housing, that tops it,” the mayor said. “Homelessness is also an issue, especially in other areas than ours. That’s not saying we’re squeaky clean, there are dependency issues and mental health issues that need to be addressed.”
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The mayor sees the crushing rents continue to rise and the lack of options for tenants. “If you find one, you won’t be able to afford it,” he said. People earning minimum wage and lower income workers – as always – are the first group to feel the financial crunch and are most at risk of losing their shelter.
Which is why Mayor Bélanger and council are keen to build homes of all sizes – “tiny homes”—and other options to fit all working budgets. However, it will not happen over night. The grant applications are some time yet from getting filled.
The more people, the more money flows into town and more taxes are collected. Work is secured, and jobs are created. “Everybody benefits” from controlled population growth.
“We’re going to start right away,” the mayor said. The goal is to update all official municipal plans to ensure housing is a priority – the province wants to see that – and once the grants are ready to dole out, the town will be posed to pounce.
“Once the government gives us a target on housing, we’ll be better equipped and prepared to chase these funding avenues.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca