As Happy Hearts Switches to Seasonal Only, It Just Gets Worse for Seasonal Workers

By John Francis

The phrase “affordable housing” has been all the buzz this year in Northern Bruce Peninsula. Employers are having a hard time finding people to keep our economy rolling and the main reason for this is that potential workers can’t find a place to live.

Stores can’t find clerks or cashiers so they have to reduce their hours of business. Contractors can’t find labourers and carpenters which increases their backlog of orders. This, of course, makes it harder and more expensive to build a home.

Where might potential workers stay? A very small number of houses have been built by the Government of Ontario for the rental market; I’m pretty sure they’re all full. A very small number of apartments have been built by Bruce County for senior citizens (Bradley Davis apartments in Tobermory) but there’s a waiting list. A very small number of affordable flats and apartments exist in Tobermory and Lion’s Head.

The trailer park at Happy Hearts Park at Tobermory has ten long-term mobile home sites, which have provided very affordable accommodations for half a century. But those sites, like so many other elements of our housing in Northern Bruce Peninsula, are about to be converted to seasonal use (see front page story).

Happy Hearts is not just the only mobile home park in Tobermory, it’s the only mobile home park within an hour’s drive. What are those mobile home residents/owners to do?

A Tobermory businessman told me recently that he has land and plans teed up for a five-unit apartment complex. But under the current system, he would need to do about $250,000 worth of preliminary work jumping through hoops — archaeology, drainage, environmental impact — before he could get a building permit. On the other hand, he could probably get instant approval to put in a monster cottage for short-term rental.

It’s not that the “authorities” don’t know there’s a problem. They are keenly aware. They just aren’t doing much.

Affordable housing is a constant concern of Northern Bruce Peninsula’s Council. They are considering strategies to encourage it — allowing smaller houses and secondary suites, for example. But there’s an elephant in that room, too. There’s nothing to stop those smaller houses and secondary suites from being rented out by the week or month rather than all year.

The arithmetic is appallingly simple. If you are a landlord and can rent a place for 12 months a year at $1,000 a month or 12 weeks a year at $1,000 a week, which would you choose? Yeah, I know. Me too.

Bruce County is also acutely aware of our seasonal economy and our housing shortage. They recently agreed to fund Tobermory Meeting Place to do a study entitled “Building Social Capital — Addressing the Human and Economic Risks of a Seasonal Economy”. This is an excellent initiative and it will provide more ammunition in our fight for better conditions for seasonal workers.

But it won’t build any apartments.

I am sure our MPP Bill Walker and our new MP Alex Ruff are very sympathetic. But the province won’t build more Rent-Geared-to-Income housing and the feds won’t do anything to fix Unemployment Insurance.

Is there anything that could be done at the local level to provide or at least encourage affordable housing?

I wonder.

Could the municipality subsidize (or persuade Bruce County to subsidize) a mobile home park? Could the municipality or the county find a way to help Happy Hearts to maintain or expand its year-round park?

Could the municipality subsidize (or persuade Bruce County to subsidize) the creation of multi-unit residential housing? 

The impediments currently in place make it ever more difficult for the private sector to build affordable housing. The people they would be building for are not a very attractive market — mostly victims of our seasonal economy. If they are lucky, they get 700 hours a year working near the minimum wage, which qualifies them for 17 weeks of Unemployment Insurance at barely half of their summer wage. Then nothing until spring.

Our seasonal workers need help. As renters, with the amount they earn in our economy, they can’t compete with visitors from Toronto. They shouldn’t have to. We need to fix this.