A pair of online workshops were held on July 26th and 27th as part of plans to address both local housing supply, and the future of the mill site in Sturgeon Falls. Republic Urbanism is an urban planning consultancy which has been retained by the municipality of West Nipissing to gain insight into what residents want and need on both fronts.
The “Stakeholder and Community Workshop” held on the 26th was about housing strategies. Paul Hicks, Founder of Republic Urbanism and the main speaker at these workshops, explains what the session was designed to find out. “What are the housing needs that exist in West Nipissing? What are the gaps that exist in housing provision in West Nipissing? What are some of the strategies, actions and tactics that the municipality can take to improve the provision, the variety and the affordability of housing in the community?”
He got some of those answers, but the one issue that came up most was affordability. Nearly 20 community members participated in the discussion, providing feedback about housing challenges they’ve faced. There were business owners not able to find housing for their staff, renters unable to find affordable apartments, homeless people with nowhere to stay overnight within West Nipissing, and people with elderly relatives unable to find space for their aging family members.
For employers, the lack of housing is a barrier to recruitment and thus a barrier to economic development. “As an employer in the community of that generation, [like the] 20 year old in that segment, I do see a lot of our employees that are having significant difficulty in acquiring any type of housing within the proximity to employment,” describes Bruno Lepage, owner the Riv Chip Stand. He described the challenge of West Nipissing being such a large geographic area, that some people who can find affordable places to rent outside of city limits are facing long commutes to work. “I have individuals working with us right now that unfortunately walk from Cache Bay to Sturgeon to try to have employment just because of the affordability. We’re seeing a significant challenge right now for transportation and for that micro-apartment or affordable apartment for that income bracket. It’s just practically non-existent or I just haven’t found it for them yet.”
Lepage isn’t the only member of the business community to decry the lack of housing for current and future staff. Nicole St-Georges, HR Manager at DSI Underground described her struggles with filling vacancies. “We are a small town, we continue to grow, and it’s very difficult to attract new people to town, or to even retain them, when there’s no housing. We’ve had a lot of employees deny or withdraw their candidacy because they didn’t have any place to live.” She continued, “We’re trying to help grow and develop the community and the town, and we want to remain here, but with the consistent demand for our products we don’t want to have to leave the town, but we may have to just because we can’t get employees, and a lot of it is due to no housing.” She also mentioned the lack of transportation to get people to work.
There is also a shortage of long-term care space for local seniors, who are sent out of town after living most of their lives in West Nipissing. The Au Château Home for the Aged and the Pavillion long-term care unit at the WN General Hospital have only so many spaces, and there are long waiting lists. “I’m in a situation with my mother who is 94, and now living in North Bay because there is nothing in Sturgeon. She has Alzheimers, and she’s had her name at the Au Chateau only 4 years. She’s in a retirement home, when she should be in a nursing home,” deplored Suzanne Davidson-Noël.