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Saturday, May 27, 2023
Special Report: One-bedrooms don’t really exist in NOTL, says realtor
One bedroom apartments in The Village start at $1,800 a month. Somer Slobodian

Second in a series

Renting a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in Niagara is pricey, but in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one-bedroom apartments are not only expensive, they’re also rare.

In fact, one-bedroom NOTL rentals don’t really exist, says Cheryl Munce, a realtor with Engel & Volkers Niagara.

There aren’t many apartment buildings in town to begin with and the buildings that do exist are mainly premium-priced condos, she said.

There aren’t many apartment buildings in town to begin with and the buildings that do exist are mainly premium-priced condos, she said.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa says this highlights the need for lower-cost, attainable housing options in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Zalepa told The Lake Report that he comes across many people who work in town and want to be able to live here – but simply can’t.

As well, there’s a “huge gap” in housing options for downsizing seniors and for “that younger, maybe single individual who’s working in town and can’t find housing under budget,” Zalepa said.

Munce is becoming increasingly concerned about that gap.

There’s a lot of young workers in town and every time she encounters one, “I ask them if they live in town and every single one of them says no,” Munce said.

They can’t afford it and there’s no apartment buildings here, she added.

However, NOTL could change that, the mayor says.

Building more along regional roads

There’s an opportunity to build attainable housing along regional roads and within walking distance of public services and amenities, Zalepa said.

He said it would be appropriate to build such housing in Old Town as long as it fits the surrounding area.

Many people would benefit, including downsizing seniors who want to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he said.

Regional Coun. Andrea Kaiser gets excited when she sees some of the new builds in Niagara-on-the-Lake, such as in Garrison Village and in St. Davids.

She thinks it’s exciting for the community, but also good for people to get used to the idea of new buildings.

“There has to be a place where we can do a tiny bit of intensification that’s appropriate to make sure that people can afford to live here,” she said.

Munce thinks the controversial 3.5-storey, 41-unit condominium proposal on Mary Street is not only a great idea, but a much-needed development, especially for seniors who want to downsize.

She thinks the Mary Street proposal is a smart option since “there’s nowhere for them to go.”

The prices of buying and renting have gone up tremendously over the years – and not just in Niagara.

“It’s a pan-provincial (and) international problem,” said Zalepa.

“I think in the smaller brackets, like Niagara-on-the-Lake, it becomes even more acute, because we have limited supply even to begin with,” he added.

Back in 2017, NOTLer Debbie Delesky paid under $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment at Brockton Apartments on Lake Street in St. Catharines. Now, that same unit rents for more than $1,500.

As Delesky’s search for an affordable NOTL apartment showed in last week’s first instalment of this Special Report, the average rental cost in Niagara-on-the-Lake is $3,032 a month.

Driven by decades of controls  

Housing advocate Scott Robinson says it’s a problem that has been driven by decades of development controls in town.

“It’s so expensive to rent to Niagara-on-the-Lake because for the past 50 years, Niagara-on-the-Lake planning and zoning policies made it illegal to build anything except for single-family homes,” said Robinson.

No purpose-built rentals have received zoning approval in NOTL since the 1990s, he said in an interview.

“The only purpose-built rental is the one in the Village (neighbourhood) that was only built because John Hawley got the zoning in the ’90s with the entire site,” said Robinson, who previously worked as a development co-ordinator for Hawley’s company.

According to BILD, the Building Industry and Land Development Association, purpose-built rentals are projects constructed specifically for long-term rental accomodation.

The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the Village is $1,800 and two-bedroom are about $2,150.

Rental prices are often an indicator of the cost of houses in general, Munce said.

The more expensive the house, the more a landlord needs to charge to cover expenses and turn a profit.

In February 2023, the average house sold in all of NOTL for over $1 million and the average house in Old Town alone went for more than $1.1 million, Munce said.

She’s concerned about people who have been renting for many years and are paying a low rent, only to have their landlords sell to a new owner. What happens if the new owner kicks them out.

“They have nowhere to go and they’ll never find a property for $1,400 a month,” she said.

Mayor thinks non-profits can help

Zalepa has hopes for the future and said he thinks non-profit organizations could help with the housing shortage in town.

“I think in Niagara-on-the-Lake, there’s probably an opportunity to work with Niagara Regional Housing and a non-profit charitable group in town that wants to help bring more deeply affordable housing to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” he said.

Charitable groups could work with Niagara Regional Housing to bring “small-scale, gentle buildings to really help those who need deep affordability,” he said.

He cited Community Care and Bethlehem Housing as great examples.

Bethlehem Housing, for example, partners with Niagara Regional Housing and other organizations to bring affordable housing to low-income families in the region.

Other church and non-profit organizations also have become partners in housing provider projects, he said.

If charitable groups worked with groups like Niagara Regional Housing, they’d get the guidance they need but still “have some ownership or they have some say in how they’re building or how their complex runs,” Zalepa said.

“I just can’t help but think we don’t really have anything like that here,” he added.

Robinson said he’s in support of that, but hasn’t seen any “examples of that in the past 20 years” in NOTL.

Zalepa said town staff will soon bring a report to council “that speaks to helping council understand and be more aware of the actual level of attainable housing in town.”

In an email to The Lake Report, chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said planning staff “will gather and provide information related to affordable housing and attainability through the growth management work they will be doing as part of the official plan work.”

For his part, Zalepa has a target for what is affordable.

“When I think affordability, I think of any type of housing that can be financially attainable with 30 per cent of your income,” he said.

That’s the “kind of measure we need to get a handle on” and he expects that is what town planners will bring to council.

Meanwhile, Delesky would like to see something in town that would keep locals in the area and allow people who grew up here to stay, if they so choose.

“I never felt comfortable anywhere else,” she said.

Next week: Non-profits collaborating with Niagara Regional Housing is just one example of what NOTL can do to address the housing crisis. Scott Robinson believes secondary suites and accessory dwelling units could also be answers. What would that look like and how might that benefit residents? We’ll explore those issues in part 3 of this series.

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