Even before the pandemic, finding an affordable housing solution in rural Eastern Ontario was a challenge for people with limited means. In this article, The Current examines some of the options being investigated by our elected officials and highlights some others that perhaps they should be looking at. Affordable housing is key for rural municipalities to achieve growth. As well, low-cost homes are urgently needed to attract:
- Workers, often with young families, who provide the workforce for local businesses and spend their paycheques in the community
- Seniors trying to live near family or stay in a familiar community after downsizing
- Homeless individuals and families
- People who have physical or mental challenges but who are capable of independent living
Secondary housing limited by existing zoning and code regulations
In Ontario a second unit must be a self-contained dwelling unit with a private kitchen, bathroom facilities and sleeping areas. It can be inside an existing dwelling or constructed as a separate standalone unit. The “Granny Flat” solution, an annex for a senior family member, would appear to be one solution. But municipal zoning requirements have not kept pace with housing needs in the province, as pointed out below by Tim Hudak, CEO, Ontario Real Estate Association.
Small homes, typically under 300 square feet in size and often moveable and/or off-grid, could be ideally suited to those of limited means in a rural environment. Here in the Ottawa Valley a wheeled home was traditionally used as a recreational toy – for vacations, hunting, fishing – and has not been considered an opportunity to provide more residences thereby increasing the municipal tax base. Also requirements to conform to Ontario’s Building Code as well as local Zoning By-Laws do not always fit with the tiny home concept, or indeed with developments of small modular houses or housing made from containers that could address specific social needs such as homelessness.
Co-op housing model – Habitat for Humanity
The co-operative option; i.e., a housing model where volunteers give their labour and materials to work alongside people of limited means, is demonstrably viable. Assisted by the volunteers, would-be homeowners contribute at least 200 hours of their own labour to the process of building their own home. Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North is based in Bracebridge and has successfully completed a number of projects in Muskoka where (as here) local people of limited means are being priced out of the housing market.
The future is now — 3D printed houses
Thanks to the latest technology and some luxurious show homes, 3D printed houses were perceived as being far from affordable – until now. During 2021 people around the globe began moving into 3D printed homes. The brief World Economic Forum video below shows that the speed of 3D printing technology can be adapted to rapid production of low cost, simple homes.
Building and installing the 3D printing equipment itself can comprise the most expensive part of the process. Once that is in place, the actual printing of the walls can happen more rapidly than traditional construction techniques as shown in the video. But like traditional concrete mixtures, the concrete additive or “paste” can only be poured within a specific range of temperatures – something Ontario builders already understand.
Co-operative builds using 3D technology
In the United States, Habitat for Humanity has taken this a step further by adopting new 3D printing construction techniques. Just before Christmas a family in Williamsburg, Virginia moved into their 1,200 sq.ft. 3D printed home which, apart from its concrete exterior walls, resembles a traditionally built house. See photo at top: Facebook/Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg
A Habitat for Humanity project much closer to home is underway near Windsor, Ontario where 3D printing company Twente Additive Manufacturing develops industrial-grade 3D printers. Recently Twente took one of its 3D-printing robots, a hulking, 2.7-tonne device, to the University of Windsor. In Leamington this winter, the school and Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex are partnering to use the technology in the construction of four affordable tiny rental homes. “This, I think, is going to be a ground-breaking project both locally and for the entire country,” says Fiona Coughlin, executive director and CEO of the local Habitat chapter. See more here: https://www.tvo.org/article/3d-printed-homes-gimmick-or-affordable-housing-solution
Here in Ontario
Province talks housing: In January Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, held a Housing Summit for “big city” stakeholders and followed it with a Housing Roundtable for rural stakeholders including Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA). Clark said in his address, “The key to building more homes is building more homes faster.” The news release issued by the province after the roundtable stated that Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force is due to report early in 2022.
ROMA report: In anticipation of a time when our lives are no longer dominated by Covid, ROMA (including board member Madawaska Valley Mayor Kim Love) commissioned a study called Opportunities for Rural Ontario in a Post-COVID World. Love provided it to MV Council at their Committee meeting on Feb.1 and asked members of Council to be prepared to discuss it in April. She said it demonstrated that the rural contribution to the province’s economy is interconnected with that of urban centres. Saying they all revolve around affordable housing, she listed the report’s main themes:
- Digital connectivity
- Housing affordability
- Access to services
- Workforce development
Innovation is among the elements discussed as being necessary in the ROMA report and elsewhere. The question is, will all tiers of the Ontario bureaucracy join to provide new zoning and building rules to allow the adoption of new technology quickly enough so that the province can address its urgent housing needs?