Interview: Collingwood Mayor Hamlin

Mayor Yvonne Hamlin joins Home Suite Home host Kelly Caldwell to discuss the need for affordable rental units for middle-income earners, the creation of an affordable housing master plan, and various initiatives to support the development of accessory dwelling units in the community.

We need real action on getting housing that is affordable for people who work here. That’s where we’re putting our efforts.”
– Mayor Hamlin

Video Transcript

Kelly: Good morning Yvonne. Thanks so much for meeting with us today. So wonderful to see you. 

Yvonne: Well, thank you for including me in your show. This is pretty awesome for our town of Collingwood 

Kelly: Yeah, and Collingwood has been a true leader in moving the needle forward for affordable housing so thanks for meeting with us. 

Yvonne: You’re so welcome. 

Kelly: Yeah. So you were first elected to council in 2018. Is that correct? You sat as a member of Collingwood Council and you sat on the Affordable Housing Task Force when we first met. That’s how you and I met. So you’re passionate about the task force? 

Yvonne: Yeah. Yeah. The council was looking for volunteers to sit on that from council. Oh, and, I just put my hand right up because it’s so obvious that, you know, the need in our community.

Kelly: Yeah.

Yvonne: And yeah, it was great to meet yourself. Oh, it’s so great to see someone so energetic, interested and willing to step up and make a difference. 

Kelly: Thank you. 

Yvonne: Yeah. So thank you for serving. 

Kelly: So, it was announced on May 2nd, 2022, which is almost two years ago, that you were registered to run for mayor, if you can believe that? Right.

Yvonne: Yeah, yeah. That’s right. 

Kelly: Seems like a long time ago, right? Yeah. Lots has happened since that time. So I’m just going to read an article that was published in or a quote that was published in CollingwoodToday, when you registered. So you were quoted as saying “We need real action on getting housing that is affordable for people who work here. We need action on making sure development respects our community, and on building a healthy and safe town. 

Yvonne: Yeah. 

Kelly: So tell me what comes to mind when you think back to that time in 2022 and just how far you’ve managed to push the needle forward in this affordable housing space.

Yvonne: Okay. Well, you know, because you were in our affordable housing task force, you were able to see in real time, the analysis that we were doing. How many units do we need? Right. And for what income? And, so I was really challenged to make sure that we could, you know, really help move the needle forward, as you say. And as you’ll recall, in that initial study that Barry Lyon’s firm did, we had it updated. And, we know that what we need here right now are 1300 rental units for people earning—okay, this isn’t just everybody—this is for people who are the backbone, who are working here with household incomes roughly between $70,000 and $100,000. 

Kelly: That’s a lot of–

Yvonne: That’s a lot of that’s a lot of units. 

Kelly: That’s rental housing.

Yvonne: Rental housing.

Kelly: Just, not people who are buying, just rental housing for people who currently live in the community. 

Yvonne: So, you know, and if you don’t have a goal, you don’t get there.

Kelly: Oh my gosh. 

Yvonne: So that’s our goal. And so that’s what was in my mind in May. We’ve really had to see what we can do. And we’re not the only one. Let’s face it, Canada is in a housing crisis for sure. 

Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. But you definitely came into your position with the true passion of focusing on affordable housing and moving that needle forward, and you’ve done a great job so far. 

Yvonne: Oh, well, we’re working on it. A long way to go. 

Kelly: So when you and I first met, I didn’t really have much of a background in government or politics. And so sitting on the affordable housing task force is a real eye-opener for me. And I learned that there’s actually a definition for what the term affordable means. Can you share that? Because I don’t think very many people know. 

Yvonne: Well, you know what I was thinking as you’re saying that is, like, there’s so many definitions, and if you want a “legal” definition, we’re waiting for the province to come up with that right now. And they’re going to define affordable and they’re going to define attainable. So what we’ve done is decided, you know, and in our community, we have an upper tier of the County of Simcoe. And so they collect taxes from all of us and other municipalities and they get funds from the province for what I’ll call social housing. 

Kelly: Okay. 

Yvonne: So as a town, we’re not occupying that space. 

Kelly: Okay. 

Yvonne: So the space we decided we’d occupy is, as we’ve been discussing, for people who work here. And so what we’re calling affordable is people who are earning in what we call the fourth to sixth decimal of income. And that’s the number I gave you, roughly, household income between $70,000 and $100,000. So that’s where we’re putting our efforts because we feel we can make the most impact there and that’s what we need because we’re not going to have a sustainable community.

Kelly: Right. 

Yvonne: Right. You know, if we don’t if nurses can’t afford to live here, doctors, resident doctors, teachers, people who work in the grocery store, like, what are we going to do? 

Kelly: Right. Right. So, to be clear, social housing is more of a county responsibility for the County of Simcoe. 

Yvonne: That’s right.

Kelly: And so when we’re talking about affordability on a municipal level or focusing on that $60 to $100,000 income bracket.

Yvonne: Yeah, exactly. 

Kelly: Perfect, perfect. So tell me, what are you most proud of? You’ve done so much in the last two years. Tell me what you’re most proud of in the in the affordable housing space or creating rental units.

Yvonne: Well, I think what we have achieved here in advance of many municipalities and even the County of Simcoe is we have an affordable housing master plan, right? So—and you saw the beginnings of all that and were part of it because as I mentioned, if you don’t have a plan, you’re never going to get there.

Kelly: Right.

Yvonne: So we know now what incomes we’re targeting. In our last budget, for 24, we’ve put aside $25,000 as an example based on our plan, to help communicate with the community. What does affordable housing mean? Why is it okay to have people who are earning oh, my God, only $100,000 live in your community, right? 

Kelly: Right. 

Yvonne: Don’t be afraid. But we know we’ve got to get that message out. 

Kelly: Right

Yvonne: Right. So we’ve got $25,000 set aside for, a communications plan. We’ve got another $25,000 set aside for seed funding if someone—oh, please come forward—would like to help develop a nonprofit housing corporation. 

Kelly: That’s amazing. 

Yvonne: Because we need somebody to. To do that. 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: Yeah. So, you know, we have that. We’ve really moved ahead on the area I think you’ve been really passionate about, which is the accessory housing units. 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: Right. So we are offering some grants for that. We have a staff person we’ve hired solely to help individuals get through our process at the town because it’s not for the faint of heart. Right. 

Kelly: For accessory units you mean.

Yvonne: Accessory units.

Kelly: So there’s a dedicated person at the town who works specifically with individuals looking to create accessory units. 

Yvonne: Yeah.

Kelly: And that’s their job. Full time. 

Yvonne: Yeah. They’ll also do our other housing-related affordable housing issues.

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: But this is a big win for the town because our town staff also identified early on that there are 900 I’ll say backyards in Collingwood that have the right size zoning whatever to put an accessory dwelling unit in. 

Kelly: Oh my goodness. 

Yvonne: Yeah. That’s a lot. Because you remember, I said we need 1,300, right? 

Kelly: Right.

Yvonne: Of that income group. So, you know, if we can put the right framework in place where people say, oh, yeah, I know I can go to the town. And by the way, we have some blueprints, too, for basement units or whatever. So, you know, we can come into the town and get some help on knowing how to do this and know what the time frame is. And then people like yourself who really know how to finance and so on. You know, we can get a lot of things done. So that’s been a big push for us. 

Kelly: Yeah. And so I did hear that, which is pretty amazing. The town has actually put together a set of pre-approved drawings. So somebody was starting with no background in development whatsoever. They can go to the Town of Collingwood website and see what the pre-approved drawings are. Say, I like this one. And then there is an expedited avenue I hear in the building department where people can just take that and say, this is what I want to do, and it’s a very quick turnaround time for permitting. Is that correct? 

Yvonne: Yeah. And so you’ll remember when you were on the Affordable Housing Task Force, I was sitting there one day on that—it was Covid we were all on zoom. 

Kelly: Yes. 

Yvonne: Those days are thankfully behind, touch wood. But, when you’re saying, you know, our buildings department, it’s so troublesome because you go in there and it’s always different people and, you know, people coming in who are not, you know, building inspectors, you know, with properties. It’s hard to get through the system and the language is hard. And you went away and did up a layman’s guide to the buildings department and how to get through it. And I was like, wow this woman’s awesome. 

Kelly: Right. And that’s the thing. So I remember when Jeff and I did our first accessory unit, trying to understand the bylaws and the rules and Ontario Building Code and all these different variables that come into play with it was so overwhelming because we had to speak that language. So we needed to learn what the verbiage meant. And for someone else to take the time to do that for to build one unit. You know, we went out on the mission to build many, but for somebody to do one unit would be very overwhelming. So we were we need to to dumb this down and make this relatable to people in terms that they can understand.

Yvonne: So we’ve sort of taken your concept if I can put it that way and trying to put it, you know, I’ll say in practice and in a more holistic way, but like because people do need help, as you say, even yourself, with all your skills, like walking in and saying, you know, talking to a building’s department person and hoping to get expedited it’s, you know, good luck.

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: Yeah. 

Kelly: So you guys have–

Yvonne: We’re trying.

Kelly: –simplified the process for the general public anyone who wants to build an accessory unit, they can go on the website. They can see if their property qualifies. 

Yvonne: Yeah. 

Kelly: If their property qualifies, they can then go and select one of the pre-approved drawings. And then they’ve got the rapid Accessory Dwelling Unit program where they can get an expedited permit.

Yvonne: Yeah. 

Kelly: Which is incredible.

Yvonne: I know. 

Kelly: Amazing. 

Yvonne: And then we offer, I think it’s $5,000, a bit of a grant for this, plus the County, if you agree to keep the rent at a certain level for so many years, the County will give you a 15-year forgivable loan. 

Kelly: Right. 

Yvonne: And I think that’s $35,000. And then if you qualify for the County loan, we’ll throw in another five. So there’s some money to be had two for individuals who are just thinking, oh, I don’t know. You know, where am I going to get all the funds do I have to borrow at all? And so there’s, you know, our staff know about that too. 

Kelly: So that’s up to $45,000 in grant funding alone. And now, the first $5,000 that you mentioned and then the last $5,000, that’s through specifically the Town of Collingwood, you guys have dedicated funds for this municipality for that funding? 

Yvonne: Yeah. 

Kelly: It’s amazing. 

Yvonne: I know, I try, I don’t know, we don’t have a big tax base. So, you know, but we’re trying. 

Kelly: But it’s great. It’s just helping move people forward in any way possible. 

Yvonne: Yeah. Yeah. 

Kelly: Tell me, what are your goals for the remaining amount of time left in your term as mayor? What are your big goals? What would you love to see happen? 

Yvonne: So, you know, we’ve put these pieces in place but I really haven’t seen people moving in too much, like, I have to clarify that I have, you know, bigger dreams than what’s happening. 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: Okay. So I, I can say that I know that our accessible, our accessory dwelling units like, three years ago, we had eight units. And then the next year, as we got into this, there were 40 that were built. Right? So we’re making a difference. And I know this year will be more. But, you know, I think what we need to do is find land where building can happen right away. So, the town, we came up with two pieces of land recently when the County of Simcoe did a call out to the members of municipalities and said, anyone got land for affordable housing? And we said, okay, we have two. And they said, well, we’re going to look at it all municipalities and see if we can pick a couple, to do some affordable housing projects. And so we’ve given them our two pieces of land for consideration and some parameters around what we would like to have happen. So and they, they’ve committed, and we, you know, we’ve put it as part of the conditions. If they pick ours, we have timelines. We really want this to happen. But you know, we don’t as a town, we don’t have a lot of land. As a community, we’re not very big land-wise, right? But I have been thinking, and, you know, I know there’s one, organization, you know, has a bunch of land that they’re not utilizing very much.

So on Friday, I’m going to talk to them. So if we can get some land, if we can help expedite the process and if we can get an organization and I’m just like, please, someone, you know, come forward who would build, you know, could you take on a project of 40 units as a, as a nonprofit? Right. The town be right behind you? 

Kelly: Yeah.

Yvonne: Or even if not a nonprofit. I had a developer in my office right here last week. 

Kelly: Okay.

Yvonne: And he’s like, I really would like this certain kind of development to happen on my lands. And I was like, well, you know, the zoning doesn’t really allow that. But in the back here, you know, how many apartment units could you do and what about housing people who are earning between 70 and $100,000?Oh, he said, there’s CMHC funding. I think I could do that. 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Yvonne: So he’s away working on that. So, you know, everything takes time, right? So but I would really like to see, and what’s the word, keys in hands, keys in doors. Whatever. Like, get some people in. Yeah. That’s my thing. 

Kelly: Amazing. Yeah. Well, thanks so much, Yvonne, for taking the time with us today.

Yvonne: Of course.

Kelly: We really appreciate your insights and everything that you’re doing for the community. You’ve just done such a fantastic job during your time.

Yvonne: Well, thank you. I’m trying. 

Kelly: Yeah, we look forward to seeing what you do next. 

Yvonne: Okay. Watch for the expanded water treatment plan. 

Kelly: Okay. 

Yvonne: Not as exciting, I’m afraid, but still needed for housing. 

Kelly: Thank you.

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