The city of Oshawa is looking to a unique solution to the problem of affordable housing: the redevelopment of older buildings into mixed-income communities.
Durham continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in Ontario. Over the past five years, the region has seen a population increase of nearly 36,000, according to Statistics Canada.
As more people look to the city as a cheaper alternative to living in Toronto, that demand has driven up the cost of housing.
The average house price in Oshawa this month is $998,431, an increase of just over 28 per cent from this time last year, according to Zolo, an independent real estate marketplace that tracks house prices.
One of the ways the city is looking to combat this is by repurposing older buildings, including older schools.
The region recently announced it has purchased Ritson Public School, which will keep the heritage characteristics of the site, but modernize the interior, according to Mayor Dan Carter.
The historic former public school was built in 1923 and closed its doors after 89 years in 2012.
Carter speaks fondly of this project which he calls “a really great opportunity.”
“There’s a historical component to it, so how can we look at that community and take that historical component, and what kind of services can we provide there?” he said. “That eight-acres, how do we create an environment that really is beneficial to those that will be living there?”
The development plan for the former Ritson Public School ties into the city’s desire to create mixed-income communities.
Mixed-income communities are designed to support a wide range of people on the financial spectrum. This means building rent-geared-to-income spaces, market value properties, rental units and commercial spaces. The idea is to not have noticeable income disparity.
The redevelopment of Ritson Public School falls in line with the Region’s housing plan for 2014-2024.
Part of the housing plan involves working with the private sector to develop new building techniques and financial arrangements to support new affordable housing, including student housing.
Meanwhile, last November, the former Holy Cross Catholic School received approval from council to become a new Refuge Centre. After a spirited debate, Oshawa City Council voted 9-2 in favour of the proposal.
The youth centre will have 27 units for low-income youth, as well as a gymnasium and offices.
Oshawa city councillor Derek Giberson notes one challenge related to affordability is a supply shortage.
“We do have a fundamental supply problem in, not just Oshawa, but Canada generally,” he said. “We haven’t, as a society at large, kept up with the growth in housing need.”
A housing report released by Scotiabank echoed that factor, stating there is a near-record imbalance between the supply of housing and demand. This is seen as the supply of housing has not kept up with the growth.