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Is ‘Accommodation’ just a joke?

Steve Campbell

I’ve been busy, because Spring is our busiest time. Still, I try to keep tabs on what’s going on in the outside world, which is the County. I can’t even deal with a world outside of that.

I’ve been watching the issue of ‘accommodation’, and I am puzzled. We have three issues to deal with: 1) Finding places for visitors to stay and 2) Finding affordable places for the many, many people needed to provide service to the many, many people who visit here and 3) Finding places for people ‘from away’ who have chosen us as a place to live.

So let’s break it down. No. 3 is not an issue. People will pay any price to live in the County. I’ve seen places sold for enormous amounts of money. Places I wouldn’t tackle though I have incredible skills in carpentry, insulation, roofing, electricity and plumbing. Don’t tell the County I do that. Which I don’t, of course. I get a proper building permit, unless I can do the job on Sundays, when the bylaw officers are on break.
The point is, places that once sold for $60,000 now go for a $Mill. You know this. We see it everywhere. Like me, you are worried about this, but no-one knows how to stop it.
We have priced ourselves out of our own market. So what can we do? Not much. We are indeed a victim of our own success, as I’ve said before. But how to solve it?
Let’s put it in the hands of County Council. When you don’t know how to control a bad situation, throw it to a group which has no idea of how to control a bad situation.

Flashback
We all knew this was coming. In the ‘60s, we saw it coming. We sat blissfully, and we watched the County become an ‘attraction’. And it was good. Businesses flourished. And we grew in popularity.
Our biggest mistake was – not because we were an ‘Undiscovered Paradise’ – but that we made no effort to plan for being ‘Discovered’.
We had no public washrooms when the bus tours arrived. In Bloomfield, we hated bus tours, because they all (and I mean 75 people at a time) went into Mrs. Dickinson’s Tea Room, and flushed and flushed and flushed many times, when we were serviced by wells and septic tanks. (I always found it funny that ‘Mrs. Dickinson’ was a burly German guy named Hans Joachim Von Grabner. He did not like people using his toilet.)

The point of this is we saw them coming, and did nothing. Council saw them coming, and did nothing. It took a long time to get Council to install a public washroom at the Town Hall in Bloomfield. This, of course, is not on the lap the current Council. But it is stupidity owned by previous Councils, who had about as much foresight as we have today.

How to gain control?
Ask Council. They don’t know. Ask us. We don’t know. We’re all in a bubble, looking out. The Number 3 people can take care of themselves, because they have the money to do it. We don’t need to worry about them.
The number 2 people (an ironic name?) are people who want to work in the County, but can’t afford – or even find – a place to live. We all know this is a problem. More on that later. Check out the Help Wanted ads in local papers. They’re a foot long. We need people to provide good, friendly service to the needy jerks I mentioned in my last column.
Council has toyed with the idea of making developers of projects designed to suit the big money city folk – add in some ‘affordable’ housing interspersed in the project. This street reads to me as: Money, money, money, cheap, 3 moneys, another cheap. Raise you 3 more moneys, and a cheap.
This could be a terrific concept, except that ‘cheap’ is a totally affordable $350,000 unit. Totally within the budget of waiters and waitresses, and apprentice tradespeople. At 20 bucks an hour (plus tips, plus being paid for blood at the local donor clinic), you can certainly live in these ‘affordable’ homes.

What is not included in Council’s perception is simple: Business people need to hire staff. They are eager and willing. They have money in hand, if only someone would turn up at their door. But (in talking with local business owners) they are lucky if they can find anyone willing to drive from Belleville or Napanee. Seriously. Because they can’t live here in the County.
I can’t say this strongly enough: If we can’t find a place for our workers, our future is doomed. If County workers can’t afford to live in the County, this is a major problem.

Lost in the Sauce
County Council knows this, which is why I left #1 to last. Council seems to have been doing the “On one hand … but, on the other hand” thing when it comes to Short Term Accommodations: On the one hand, we need places for our visitors to stay. On the other hand, unsupervised (absentee landlord) properties are annoying neighbours with ‘Animal House’ parties, and something which might politely be described as ‘reckless behaviour’.
Here’s where I don’t get it. Councillors, for some reason unknown to me, don’t seem to know the offenders from the benefactors. B&Bs are not remotely the same as the city guy who buys several houses and let’s everybody have at it. These are not the same animals. Use discretion. Use common sense.
Left hand, right hand. We need places for our many, many visitors to stay. Let’s mess that up. We want places for them to stay, but we’ll punish anyone who tries to fill that need. Let’s tax them, for doing exactly what we need them to do.
And I’m not done yet.

Tell us what you want
This is directed to Council. I often ask my readers: What do we want? Now I ask councillors, what do you want? Simple question, but the answer is not obvious to me.
We have had some great ideas for new housing developments. Of course, Council can’t jump right on board to any idea, but I saw one good one disappear into the vapours. As a reminder: We need housing in the County. This would seem to be the job at hand.
Left hand, right hand: You say you want it, but then you bury proposals in stacks of paperwork; delay it for months; demand ridiculous ‘expert’ reports and surveys and expensive engineering reports by anyone who can hold a pen and a slide rule, at the developers cost; and then reject it.
To me, this is not a fun game. When I ask what you want, I’m serious. You talk ‘new affordable housing’. You do not deliver. Focus on the job at hand. The #3 people will find their way. The rest of us? Not so lucky.

‘Small housing’ got shot down, but it could be workable. If you live in a world in which you own your house, you may not understand those of us who don’t.
We may not have the money to drive the County economy. But the County economy will be dust if we can’t find a way to support it.

 

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Bonnie Kirk says:

    Run in the next local election.

  2. SS says:

    Steve makes great points, especially starting with the three issues.

    Although Council should be aware of all three (and try to take these into account when policies are crafted), their priority MUST be with item 2, IMHO.

    Business cases will driver the answers to item 1. And item 3 will be determined, as it always has been, by real estate supply / demand.

    This leaves item 2: “Finding affordable places for the many, many people needed to provide service to the many, many people who visit here.”

    Arguably, this could be slightly changed to “Ensuring the availability of affordable places for the people who live here now.”

    Just last week, my wife was chatting with a cashier at a local food retailer, who was saying that she had to start couch-surfing with her kids, with any friends / relatives who could / would allow that, because her landlord had chosen not to renew her lease because of plans to renovate.

    We have many talented and experienced builders and renovators here in the County. But they cannot reverse the skyrocketing prices of building materials, nor can they fight the laws of supply and demand related to real estate.

    But Council must recognize that without some sort of policy (or policies) that encourage the construction and renovation of accommodation that can be purchased or rented on at least a “living wage” budget, the problem will continue.

    And couch surfing is NOT the answer.

  3. David Thomas says:

    What has happened in the County has happened multiple times in multiple places in prior decades, especially in the U.S., where it seems to be 10 years ahead of us when it comes to these sorts of issues. Surely SOMEONE has figured out how to make it all work. Why does it feel like we are reinventing the wheel instead of learning from others?

  4. SM says:

    I suppose I am one of those ‘come from away’ people. We moved to Wellington in 2015. We did not come from Toronto. We did not make a huge windfall profit on the sale of our last home. We did not pay a million dollars. In fact we could not have afforded to do so. Even though the market has slowed here and even though prices are starting to slip lower, I could sell our home for at least twice what we paid. I don’t need to sell however. Selling would require us to move somewhere else but that begs an important question: where? In case you had not noticed house prices across the country have risen dramatically over the course of the pandemic. Saskatchewan is apparently the most affordable province. New Brunswick has seen huge house price gains. Last time I looked a 1/2 inch sheet of plywood was about $65.00. G.M. has tens of thousands of vehicles they can’t sell because they don’t have the computer chips to run them. Gasoline is over $2.00 per litre. You might say all of these things are unrelated. They may be or they may not, but one thing is clear County Council can’t fix them and they never could.

  5. Kathie Schutta says:

    Thanks, Steve. It’s good to have your column back!

  6. Blair Attwells says:

    Have u got time to be mayor Sir 😀 haha. Hit the nail on the head

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    I appreciate Steve’s point of view about this issue of tourism and how to accommodate them. I remember a time back in 2006 when I attended a meeting held by the Economic Development Dept. of PEC. This meeting caused a stir because the person in charge (at the last minute) revoked the invitation to the Cottages and Campground Assoc. Apparently he felt that only those businesses that attracted “money people and retirees” from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal should be invited. That decision was eventually changed – but it did damage and it clearly showed even back then the out of control direction that The County was on, when it came to listening to locals and how tourism ruled the day. We are now paying for such blind decisions and really nothing has changed.

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