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The pain of being number one

Steve Campbell

Last time I talked about the new wave of tourists this summer. I hope I made it clear that our usual summer visitors still come and enjoy the County for everything it is. The ‘destination’ seekers are indeed a different crowd – notable by their attitude, their lack of respect, and their sheer volume.

This is a lead-in to a new conversation about our changing County, with new problems, partly due to that incredible hype pushed out by the metro papers.
Suddenly, Toronto people saw us not as an idyllic paradise with really great people, but as a giant no-rules playground … and a great investment opportunity.

According to Word on the Street, this has caused three new major upsets in our traditional lifestyle: absentee landlords buying homes (sometimes in quantity!) as ‘vacation rentals’; lack of rental housing for locals; and lack of workers to deal with the million people who flock here in the summer.
I’ve talked to a lot of people – residents and business owners alike – to assemble a picture of this new development. And it turns out this three things are actually linked together. So let’s take it from the top.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a house in the County, and charging $1500+ per week to pay the mortgage. I would be inclined to do the same, if I had the money.
But there’s a backlash to this, and I’ve heard it everywhere. First, absentee landlords have no stake in the property they buy, or the community it occupies. Their main interest is in cashing cheques. Second: Unlike B&Bs and inns, there are no rules to say how many people you can pack into a house for a week … $1500 a week doesn’t work out badly if you have 15 people.
Third: Noise complaints. Sure, we have bylaws for that but, if you’ve paid for the vacation, you’ll do what you please. Fourth: Location. It’s fine to have wild parties if the nearest house is a mile away, but many of these places are being bought up in built-up areas, like Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton. Fifth, and far from the last complaint: Rental housing is scarce for local working people, yet they watch a house sitting empty for a large part of the year.
Clearly this is a grievous and unexpected problem.

So, how to solve it? The answer surfaced in a half-year review, issued on the internet by Community Development officer Neil Carbone, and in which – surprisingly – he addressed all three of these problems.
I decided, before I went shooting my mouth off, it would be a good idea to get his take on the issues through a fact-finding mission in a casual setting at Coach’s.
I started by berating him for using the word ‘challenges’ instead of my words – ‘big f@#$g problem’, but that’s why the County didn’t hire me to do the job. We speak a slightly different language.
Carbone was very candid and – despite the shadows of former officers over the years – completely unguarded and genuine in his responses.

On vacation rentals, he told me that two departments of the County had been asked to study the problem, and that something needed to be put in place, addressing all of the known issues above. Of these, location seemed to be paramount, as anyone can see a looming problem with the invasion of large numbers of visitors in our villages. Number of occupants is also on the list, to bring it in line with other accommodations services.
He says it’s progressing well, and he hopes to have the recommendations to Council by Spring of next year.

“B&Bs and inns already have controls, and the owners are on site,” he said. This not only affects the behaviour of the guests, but helps them truly explore the County, through the aid of a local.

Finding staff for local businesses was next on the list. Reports from businesses revealed they needed more help, but couldn’t find it. To be clear, one restaurant owner is paying staff $20 per hour – $25 with tips. And don’t play the ‘seasonal’ card on me – these are year-round jobs.
I questioned whether it was a lack of work ethic in our young people, but Carbone tells me that the unemployment rate in the County hovers around 4.5%. This makes it one of the lowest rates in Ontario, and even in Canada.

“The problem is, we don’t have enough people to fill the jobs,” he says. “Small business, tradespeople, they are ready to expand, but we just don’t have the people to fill the jobs.”
Contractors are willing to bring in employees from outside the County – but that brings us to Problem #3: Where do they stay?
This is the toughest nut to crack, since affordable housing and rental spaces do not remotely suit our continuing growth. Council has had this on the burner for years, but no-one knows how to solve the problem.
Building is happening, but mostly single family dwellings. Larger developments are in the works, but they want to sell their homes, not rent them.

“It’s hard to get the private sector to buy in to rental housing,” Carbone said. “Let’s face it, if you put $100-$200,000 into building a unit, you want your money back as quickly as possible, not through monthly rental payments – and with the landlord responsibilities that go along with it.”

In my words, not his, it seems we have been so successful, we have priced ourselves out of our own market.
I urge Council to take a strong hand in this. We are nearing our economic peak. A slow rise can become a quick fall when ‘the place to be’ becomes ‘rather a disappointment’. It’s not too late to work on controlled growth. Sometimes this means turning money away from the table, if the money-bagger is not a good fit for the County.

To me, Highway 49 – despite the fact I drive it regularly – drops on the priority list when we are facing a crisis in housing our own people. Success is one thing, but sustainability is another. I would rather drive on a crappy road and have $22 million dollars in new rental housing.
Infrastructure is not just roads and bridges. It’s maintaining our lifestyle, providing for our own people. We fight to preserve and protect the things we value: our historic buildings, our land, our water and, most of all, our sense of community.
We’ve spent decades developing economic growth, slowly but surely.
I just hope we haven’t worked ourselves out of the equation.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Barbara Mason says:

    In response to summer rental accommodation with no regard for neighbors and numbers, there are some of us, who ensure, with legally binding contracts, that only responsible families who are vetted and respectful of the properties and neighbours are permitted into our homes to enjoy the beauty of Prince Edward County. Those of us who such measures should not be grouped in the revenue seekers with no regard for property or community. It’s like saying that all dog owners don’t picked up after their dogs… the few, damage the reputation of the whole.

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    Look at the fall-out from both past and current political decisions…. by focusing on both retirees and tourists has created a non-sustainable community. Young people are leaving and not enough young families moving in – schools are scheduled to close and our lack of industry allows for horrible decisions like the Picton Terminals to be encouraged by some. Not forgetting some of the ridiculous money decisions made on top of everything else – and council still actively supports the same old stuff!

  3. Paul Cole says:

    Had County council encouraged and supported industry like they did the wineries we may not be in this mess. Councils have focused on tourism and put all their eggs in one basket. And whats in front of us ain’t looking so good Emily…

  4. Marnie says:

    I am well aware that the canning factories have gone and that change is essential. The changes we are seeing may have been positive in the beginning but now have changed the face of the county and not in a good way. Of course we cannot go back to the way we were but we can certainly take a critical look at the way we are going. If you enjoy inhabiting Disneyworld then life is good here – traffic jams, a festival every five minutes, and this summer some rude and aggressive summer visitors. If you remember even the county of ten years ago you have to wonder why we sold it out.

  5. Emily says:

    With all small industry gone, factories etc from the past , what do you expect. You can’t go back to the way it was. The world economy haa changed. Tomatoe factories that were so abundant across the County back then were no different and paid less than our wineries do now. Need to change with what is front of you.

  6. Marnie says:

    You’re right Paul. People are now singing a different tune. Last year those strongly in favour of tourism emphasized that it provides sorely needed jobs. Interestingly enough some places closed before the end of the season this year because they could not find staff. I guess there were no takers for those job opportunities. Any mention of nowhere to park and the tourist fans told us to park on King or Mary Streets and walk. Now even these streets are clogged with cars. Tourism eventually will ruin our county. It has gone a long way towards that end already. We have become Alexandria Bay.

  7. Paul Cole says:

    Those who did not see this coming 10/15 years ago were naïve at the least back then it was Retiree’s. Those Folks are not the problem its who started coming after, the opportunists who wanted to cash in. I’ve said it back then and I will say it again .. It is unsustainable and it will cost this County dearly watch and see….

  8. Marnie says:

    They cannot dispense medications so the watchword is boarders but I am unaware of any of them that are working outside the home. They are elderly people still capable of handling their own meds.

  9. hockeynan says:

    The place across the street is not a retirement home but is a boarding house

  10. Jan says:

    With regards to the first part of Steve’s blog, that is that rude tourists we are getting, in my opinion proportionally there is the same number. It’s just that we have so many more tourists that the odds of running into more rudeness is higher ..

  11. Fred says:

    They are zoned commercial so there should be no issue.

  12. Marnie says:

    Wonder how folks in the neighbourhood will like if when those decks at the former Legion Hall are used during special outdoor events? What about the potential for noise if Mr. Sorbara acquires the town hall as an extension of his plan for the Royal. There is a seniors’ retirement home right across the street.

  13. Borys Holowacz says:

    You mention two departments of the County had been asked to study the problem and provide recommendations to Council by spring of next year.

    I hope some solutions will also come in the spring.

  14. Gary says:

    That would be County Rd.49 not Hwy. 49. Remember the Conservatives downloaded this to the County taxpayers.

  15. Anonymous says:

    “Third: Noise complaints. Sure, we have bylaws for that but, if you’ve paid for the vacation, you’ll do what you please”

    Ha! Locals have been complaining about the Emmanuel shaking old foundations for years and it hasn’t gotten them anywhere!

  16. Andre Gratton says:

    Great article and good insights….and yes housing/ accommodation is def. the big issue for the County. Priority being housing that is affordable, then we can think about accommodation for tourists. And i’m not sure that this issue of ” rental for tourists” is as challenging an issue as it might seem. Other cities are now imposing taxes and restrictions on use of condo’s ect. that seem to be working not sure why we cannot do the same.

  17. Brenda says:

    You missed one huge point. The freakin traffic in the summer with all those tourists. Btw, the locals would rather have the highway fixed then more rental properties. Not sure whom you’ve talked to but everyone I grew up with is pretty sick of the Toronto invasion and they would rather have better roads then more people moving here!

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