Imiss Mary Darlington. Mary lived just around the corner on East Street—the house where a pair of trees were coaxed decades past to join a few feet off the ground— forming a distinct arboreal X symbol on her front yard. Mary wrote a column in this newspaper for a time—a gentle and hopeful contemplation of her garden. Yet her writing seemed to transcend description of buds, earth and sunlight—immersed in the words the reader joined her in careful observation of the beauty and charm that exists in the everyday. She walked every day. To the Post Office. To the church. Foodland. Slight and always cheerful, Mary offered a warm and enchanting encounter to those fortunate to know her.
But when the house and yard became too much, there was nowhere in Wellington for her and her husband, Arthur, to go.
I remember the day they left. Arthur had been ailing for some time and they decided they just couldn’t manage in their house. She mourned the idea of leaving this village. Her church. Her garden. Her routine. Her home. But there was nowhere here for them to live.
I had never seen tears on Mary’s face before. Never seen her so anguished.
Mary and Arthur moved to an apartment in Trenton. It was the sensible decision. But leaving the village was painful. Not so far away. But far enough.
Arthur has since passed away. Mary visits from time to time. But it’s not the same.
There is a new proposal being put f orth for condominium apartments in Wellington. Three four-storey buildings on the patch of grass between the LCBO and the medical centre on the village’s western edge.
The prospect is worrying to some. Objectionable to others. Too big, too dense, too close. Folks worry about retail rising on the edge of the village, eroding the vitality of downtown. Some worry about the appearance of apartment blocks on Wellington’s western gateway. And, if you live on Elmdale Drive, and your home backs onto the greenspace, you are sure to be displeased about the prospect of three new condominium buildings blocking your view of the lake.
But before we prepare our petitions and picket signs, let’s first acknowledge the housing market in Wellington—and to a lesser extent, the County—is broken. Demand to live here far outstrips the available supply. Not nearly enough homes are being built, or are coming available on the resale market to feed this demand. Those homes that do come up for sale, trade at prices that make living in Wellington unaffordable for many, if not most.
Wellington on the Lake is building homes as fast as it can, but that community will soon be filled. And besides, it is not for everyone. As many as 700 new homes are planned for the northern edge of the village, but these developers have been stuck in neutral for nearly a decade with no clear prospect for breaking ground soon.
What all this means is that homes that traded two years ago for $200,000 are being snapped up for $400,000 or more. At these prices, the economics, for some, means converting to a vacation rental. More problematically, as neighbourhood streets are consumed by AirBnB and VRBO rentals, we run the risk of treating the symptom rather than the disease— or losing focus from the challenge before us—namely a demand-supply imbalance.
The bottom line is that Wellington, and indeed Prince Edward County, needs more housing. More types and variety of housing.
Only when this happens will the pressure ease on the limited stock available. It isn’t a panacea— home prices won’t go back to where they were—but this damaging trend will be disrupted. And we will see some balance return. Only then we can have meaningful discussions about creating and nurturing affordable housing.
To do this, residents, businesses and council must join together to encourage and streamline new home development in this community. That doesn’t mean giving builders carte blanche. Instead, we must work alongside them every day and remind them of the values we hold dear about our community.
But we also must get over the instinct to block change and development—especially when it comes to housing.
We are hardwired to resist change. But the indisputable fact is that our inability to build new homes in sufficient quantities in Wellington is warping and twisting this community far more than any condominium project ever could. That must change.
This week Barry Davidson announced a partnership with RoyalCliff Homes to begin construction of the Twelve Trees development—30 condo apartments, six townhomes— next spring in Wellington. It’s a start.
Sandbank Homes hopes its plan for 49 new condominium apartments units will be presented to council by the end of the year. Some units, though not all, are expected to start in the low $300,000 range. Though not affordable to all, it does begin to give folks who live in Wellington an alternative to moving away.
Just as compelling from a market perspective is that these new units will provide some short-term relief from demand and supply imbalance.
It’s not a fix. It’s a start.
Let us build housing that enables our aging demographic to remain in their community. Let us do what we can to ensure that other Mary Darlingtons are able to stay in Wellington for as long as they desire.