Housing crisis plagues Muskoka with one hospital worker living in a tent

A lack of available housing in Muskoka has made the cottage country move for a local health care worker a living nightmare.

Andries Huygens has relied on short-term rentals and camping since moving to Bracebridge to start a new job as a laboratory technologist at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare this summer.

Initially giving himself six weeks to find a permanent residence, Huygens said he was surprised to find such little housing supply and even fewer landlords willing to call back.

“I’ve been able to sign a lease for a place five months later, but I’m still not in the place that I’m going to live, still not in permanent housing as of this moment,” Huygens said. “Unexpected renovations at the home has kept me from moving in.”

Huygens stored his belongings in storage units across five different cities since moving from the GTA.

“I can’t even get my winter jacket, that’s stored in Barrie,” he added. “Finding a home has been really depressing, to be honest.”

The struggles with housing that Huygens’ is in have been plaguing the hospital’s ability to recruit.

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare said it has 100 vacancies to fill, with 40 per cent full-time positions.

“Convincing recruits that Muskoka is a great place to live isn’t the challenge. It’s ensuring that they will actually have a home that makes it difficult,” said Brody Purser, Associate Vice President of People Services at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare. “I really think it’s important that we focus on creating transitional housing, getting people to come up, to be able to transition.”

The hospital has created the Housing for Healthcare program to help potential recruits find suitable accommodation. The hospital can find leads for workers seeking a permanent home through its regional partners, but more is needed.

“Ninety-two vacancies today over the next two to three years will become 300 vacancies,” said Norm Barrette, health services commissioner at the District Municipality of Muskoka. “Even if we hired 10 more people in our Human Resources department focused solely on recruiting our hard-to-fill positions, we still won’t get ahead because there are just not attainable housing options.”

Registered nurses, PSWs and early childhood educators are just some of the other positions the district is having difficulties filling.

“Right now, we’re using staffing agencies from the GTA to provide backfill for positions and putting workers in hotels overnight,” Barrette added. “It isn’t sustainable. It is very much short-term.”

Barrette added that the district is exploring all options through its regional and provincial government partners.

In a statement to CTV News, Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Graydon Smith wrote, “Communities throughout Parry Sound-Muskoka, like all of Ontario, are experiencing a housing supply crisis that is leaving people unable to access affordably priced homes. This issue is impacting the livability of our communities as it’s increasingly difficult to attract and retain critical workers like healthcare professionals.

The only way to fix the problem is to build more homes and rebalance the supply and demand dynamic in the housing sector. This is why our government is taking decisive action to ensure Ontario builds 1.5 million new homes, 10,000 of which will be in Parry Sound and Muskoka, over the next 10 years.”


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