Thursday, December 1 2022

This new housing project in Niagara is not for you. These days, they come out and say it: This place is for GTA retirees.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a rental, condo, or house, there’s a new trend where the sales pitch is essentially “retire here from Toronto.”

While in Grimsby recently I saw a housing project and was shocked that it was actually rentals and not condos or townhouses or whatever a “stacked townhouse” is meant to be. It was honest rentals, like in an apartment building.

But then I spotted the marketing billboard for it, which made it pretty clear that again, it’s not for us. The giant text said they were “exclusive rental units”, which means “expensive”. The building’s conceptual design also left few questions about who will live there; it was an old, gray-haired man entering the building, his white BMW parked in the parking lot.

Everything in the ad (down to the 519 area code on the phone number) is carefully crafted to tell people, “These are being built by an out-of-town developer and will be lived in by retirees from out of town.”

In Port Colborne, the sale of condominium units to out-of-town retirees is quickly becoming the city’s main economic avenue. With the West Street condo already completely sold out, the city is working with a developer to build another condo, this time across the canal on the city’s infamous east side.

The low-income east side, almost affectionately called Lidsville by locals, is in desperate need of housing. During our newspaper’s in-depth housing crisis article last year, I heard so many people say that once affordable housing in Port Colborne, including the east side, was rapidly becoming gentrified, corporations out-of-town real estate companies grabbing all the available housing. unit in order to apply a new coat of paint, raise the rent and replace the existing tenants with more affluent retirees.

The east side is in need of housing, and to its credit the city is undertaking a hugely significant project in the form of an affordable housing building which it is helping to develop alongside Port Cares. As important as this project is, it is not enough.

That’s why I find the new side condo is so strange. In a staff report on the project, the city makes it clear who the target audience is.

“It will attract new residents looking for innovative design and downtown urban living with shops and amenities close by,” he says.

The key phrase being “new residents”. Meanwhile, the city’s current residents are desperate for housing, but attracting these GTA retirees remains the goal.

The problem, of course, is how to build something that the GTA crowd won’t just grab. Well, it’s quite simple actually. These pampered couples have spent most of their lives living in tiny little boxes, so that’s what they want. That’s why Niagara condos are filled with Torontonians, because they can live their normal lives, but without having to deal with Toronto’s traffic or crime or all the other filth that comes with the big city.

So if we want to build homes that they won’t buy, we just have to get back to building real homes with appropriately sized lots. The thought of having to push a lawn mower or shovel a driveway is absolutely terrifying to these Toronto folks. They want a small condo with a balcony or a townhouse with five square feet of lawn, nothing more.

If we can start building real homes again, while preserving our rental homes instead of turning them into “luxury rentals”, then we will start creating places for people who have lived here to continue to live here.

Otherwise, we’re headed further down the path to becoming another GTA suburb, and no one wants to be the next Oshawa.

James Culic is the columnist for Niagara This Week and he’s never even been to Oshawa. Email him at [email protected] or holler on Twitter @jamesculic.

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