Housing Hardship: Difficult to move forward in Fenelon Falls with housing supply so tight

By William McGinn

Jeremy Englestad is one of many Fenelon Falls residents who would benefit from a larger housing supply.

Jeremy Engelstad, 24, is a Fenelon Falls resident who has done several jobs while growing up in the village, including farm work, stacking wood, collecting garbage, and shelf stocking and cart gathering at Sobeys.

Lately, he’s been thinking that a job in construction or waste management is something he might like to try.

When it comes to taking all the steps of adulthood, however, his biggest dream is renting his own apartment – and that’s also his biggest challenge in a village where housing needs easily outstrip supply.

For many years, he and his family have been planning and preparing for this possibility. Renting an apartment in Fenelon Falls is, however, easier said than done, due to a shortage of local affordable housing. It’s especially difficult for those who may have more obstacles in life, like Jeremy, who has an intellectual disability.

Diane Engelstad, his mother, is a founding member of the Fenelon Falls Housing Partnership, a group dedicated to inclusion for those who “are often shut out of the current market, for reasons of accessibility, income, access to transportation, or disability,” according to their website.

Diane told the Advocate she thought for a while that Jeremy would not be able to move out on his own because of his disability. She changed her mind when seeing others in similar situations who were able to do so with the help of organizations.

“We thought a number of years ago that he could have a good group home. I don’t think that anymore,” she said. “I think he needs support to live in his own place. He’s a citizen like everybody else. He would like to contribute to life in the community and he also needs support like we all do.”

Lois Powers is executive director of the John Howard Society of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton, a Canadian non-profit organization that specializes in helping individuals in conflict with the law or those who are vulnerable and may need assistance in other ways. She says Kawartha Lakes is a community that does a good job in supporting vulnerable people in many ways.

“We have good working relationships with all the housing providers, for sure. We have positive relationships with employers. The significant gap is housing.”

Powers said there just “aren’t enough apartments around,” creating a significant shortage in permanent housing. [The John Howard Society] has residences for people primarily in the justice system and [who] need some stability. They have courts and counselling, but the issue often is where do they go after? We have the shelter system, a lot of organizations have transitional models in housing, but we need more than that.”

Diane said Jeremy needs to be able to stay in the Fenelon Falls community “because this is where all the people are that he knows — this is his community.”

Hope Lee, manager of housing services in Kawartha Lakes, shared data on rent costs in the last quarter in Kawartha Lakes. In Kawartha Lakes, the monthly rent for a single room was $622, a one-bedroom apartment was $1,179, a two-bedroom was $1,569, and a three-bedroom was $1,798.

“The city has adopted a 10-year housing and homelessness plan for 2020-2029,” said Lee, “with specific targets to ensure there are additional units created over that period based on local needs.”

The city will continue to encourage mixed development, she says, with a focus on affordable, and attainable housing.

Two new 45-unit apartments are proposed to be built on Juniper Street in Fenelon Falls, with most of the units reserved for low to moderate income residents. Diane was thinking one of these units might become Jeremy’s first independent home.

Concerns were expressed by some villagers though, including the notion Fenelon Falls does not have enough jobs or a transit system for the increase in population that a new complex would bring.

Rebecca Mustard, manager of Economic Development in Kawartha Lakes, said that to an extent, bringing more people to live in a given area creates new jobs, because a larger population will increase demand.

Diane agrees with this. “If you don’t have places to live,” she said, “you’re not going to have people working in establishments. So the employers are going to go where the people are. They’re not going to set something up where they can’t get employees.”

“Looking at our centralized waiting list today,” said Lee, “we can certainly confirm need for more housing in Fenelon Falls. There are currently 120 community-housing rental units in Fenelon. There are approximately 500 households on the centralized waiting list who have selected a Fenelon Falls building.”

Mustard says the Kawartha Lakes economy has room to grow. “We have spaces for businesses to locate, broadband improvements are underway making working from home more and more viable, and Kawartha Lakes is filled with entrepreneurs. In 2019, there were just shy of 6,000 self-employed people and many of these local businesses will continue to grow. Each year the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre meets with hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to start up or grow their business.”

“We’re finding, in this community,” said Powers, “people really do want to help. I just think we need more resources.”

While development for Juniper Street’s expected apartment buildings is still underway, Jeremy’s family is considering building a two-bedroom apartment in their own home where he would have a taste of living on his own, which would most likely include a roommate from the community.

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