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Pandemic-induced homeowner priorities present opportunity for North: report

High-speed internet, natural gas expansion among recommendations from Ontario Real Estate Association
North Bay home construction (2012)

A desire from homeowners for outdoor amenities and a chance to work from home, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, present a “golden opportunity” for rural and Northern Ontario to attract new residents, according to a new report.

But to make it happen, the Ontario government needs to act on a set of priorities that make rural and Northern Ontario more attractive places for homeowners to live and businesses to operate.

Those priorities are addressed in Small Towns, Big Opportunities: Unlocking Growth in Ontario’s Rural and Northern Communities, a new policy report prepared by StrategyCorp and the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).

“For too long, rural and Northern Ontario have lost too many jobs and too much talent. One-size-fits-all government policies often accelerate the trend, robbing these communities of a brighter future,” Tim Hudak, OREA’s CEO, said in a Jan. 28 news release.

“But together, we can turn this around. A Government of Ontario focused on these ideas will help create and attract jobs, reverse the out-migration of young talent, close the infrastructure gap, and foster more housing starts.”

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Among the 15 recommendations in the report, OREA said funding more natural gas projects for rural and Northern Ontario will help reduce the cost of business and living in those areas.

In terms of development, OREA recommends tax deferrals, a tiered graduation from small business tax to corporate tax, and the introduction of ‘opportunity zones’ – designated areas where economic activity and growth have been stagnant.

The government should also make it easier to have broadband internet installed, including reviewing policies on easement rules and lobbying the federal government for more funding, OREA said.

In addition, the organization advocates for a coordinated approach to immigration; specifically, an expansion of the current five-year Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, which is a targetted approach to drawing newcomers to Northern Ontario’s five big cities.

“We believe that these ideas can help reverse the decline and build upon the natural talents, entrepreneurship, beauty and resources in small-town and Northern Ontario,” Hudak said.

“The recent trends towards work-from-home and greater interest among Ontarians to live in small towns make us even more optimistic.”

OREA is a professional association representing realtors across the province whose mandate is to advocate for home and property ownership, property rights, and prosperous communities.