OPINION: Housing has become the top challenge facing Cornwall

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Housing has become the top challenge facing Cornwall

This is a week where I have several things I’d like to comment and provide analysis that are all related to one big issue. Cornwall has a lot of big and important things going on and this past week in particular saw some significant developments that should not go unnoticed.


Cornwall’s Housing Task Force is ready to launch, and not a moment too soon. The Cornwall housing market continues to be red hot and supply of all kinds of housing.

The city is facing a real challenge to its housing sector and should be ready to pull out all the stops to stimulate development.

Cornwall City Council has already been told that it needs to add 741 affordable housing residential units to its stock to meet demand within the next 10 years.

On top of this, available homes on the housing market are drying up fast, with listings going for well over the asking price in a matter of hours, not even a matter of days.

Working from home is rapidly becoming common place because of the pandemic, and that is not going away. Cornwall has a lot to offer young families and it is clear that people want to move here.

This is a very good problem to have, but it is also, like I said, a big challenge to overcome.

What the Housing Task Force should look at first, is infill. Fill the vacant spaces in the city that are close to utilities and amenities before building out to new subdivisions that will require new infrastructure to be built to support them.

Vacant Properties

In filling the vacant spaces in the city brings me to a convenient segway to the next topic I’d like to talk about, and that is vacant properties.

At their last meeting, Cornwall City Council considered several motions to address vacant properties within the city.

First, Council rejected the idea of putting a tax on vacant properties in the city.

Taxing vacant properties is something that has been considered in bigger cities, like Toronto, City of Cornwall administration however found that there would be little financial benefit to instituting such a tax in Cornwall.

A reason for their being little revenue potential in a vacant property tax, is that there are very few vacant residential properties in the city, less than 20 at the time administration wrote their report to council. Additionally, administration is unsure if the city can legally impose a vacant property tax on commercial properties.

As far as residential housing, I agree, we don’t need a vacant property tax on residential properties because there are none. As for commercial properties, I think that is a different issue, one I’ll address in my next topic.

Domtar, CIL, Pitt and Second

Cornwall City Council narrowly passed three resolutions to invite the property owners of the vacant Domtar, CIL, and Pitt and Second properties to present their plans for the future.

Councillor Justin Towndale summarized his position, and that of other councillors who opposed these resolutions stating that a property owner has a right to sell their land when and how they see fit, and to develop their land how they see fit as well. Councillor Towndale also stated that there were plenty of other vacant commercial properties in the city and Council could not feasibly expect to hear updates on all of them.

Councillor Towndale is absolutely right on all of his points that I summarized above, but I am glad that Council still voted in favour to hear updates from the owners of the properties previously mentioned.

These owners are within their rights to not develop these lands if they want, and they don’t even have to come to council to present an update. Council cannot subpoena them or coerce them to develop their land or give them an update if they don’t want to.

That being said, shining a light on these long vacant pieces of land will hopefully stimulate something to start to grow.

With the demands on our housing market, Cornwall is a rapidly growing city, and I’d rather see vacant spaces inside the core of the city filled in before we start extending our urban sprawl.

Also, these owners are a part of our community. Perhaps they have chosen not to develop these lands due an obstacle that the city and the community can help to fix. I’m sure all of these developers have great vision for what they would like to see done with their land, and the city should do all it can to help them achieve their vision.

Hopefully, these discussions will see ideas come forward that can be used to support other vacant commercial property owners to the benefit of everyone.

What do you think readers? How should Cornwall handle its housing issue? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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