Nigel and Denise Evans with their son Rhys at their Peachtree Park home. DON RICKERS

Lifelong Pelham resident Rhys Evans may effectively be priced out of town

Nigel and Denise Evans have lived in Pelham for three decades, ever since emigrating from the United Kingdom. Their 28-year-old son, Rhys, was born here, and loves the community. He’s a graduate of E. L. Crossley and Niagara College, served on two Town Council committees, and held a part-time job. And he would like to build a life here, living independently.

Rhys is also disabled. He has cerebral palsy, and is confined to a wheelchair. His parents feel that the lack of affordable, accessible housing is an issue other municipalities have actively worked to defeat, but in their view, Pelham is falling behind in providing apartments for younger people with disabilities.

They have shared their concerns with Mayor Marvin Junkin, inquiring as to what steps could be taken to rectify the situation. For example, could young disabled adults apply to the Town Square Manor seniors apartments by the library? Could the Town grant permits to developers with a provision that some of the units be made available for people with disabilities on low income?

The Evanses said Rhys was excited in November 2017, when Parkhill Properties purchased 1.48 acres in East Fonthill near the community centre for $1.1 million, and announced plans to build an eight-storey, 80-unit apartment building geared to affordable housing. But the project did not come to fruition. Marc MacDonald, Communications and Public Relations Specialist for the Town of Pelham, said that the developer received site plan approval from council, but MacDonald was unaware as to why Parkhill did not proceed with construction.

Pelham’s Director of Community Planning and Development, Barb Wiens, responded to the Evans inquiry on behalf of the Town. She said that Pelham has approved a number of projects for apartment-style housing, including a 10-storey apartment building adjacent to Wellspring Niagara, a 60-unit apartment building on the former Fonthill Lumber site, a five-unit apartment building within the Summersides Mews development, three apartment buildings on the corner of Rice and Summersides Boulevard (known as 120 Summersides), and a 12-unit apartment building on Port Robinson Road.

In addition, Wiens said that the Town has an application for an apartment building proposed for 1 Pancake Lane that is pending a public meeting and a council decision, and another proposal for an apartment building on Station Street that will be considered early in 2021. All of these developments would have some accessible units, a requirement of new construction under the Ontario Building Code Act.

However, the Town does not control the marketplace, said Wiens, and can only encourage developers to provide affordable housing units. Further, once a proposal receives planning approval, the Town has no ability to control when a developer will build, since the timing is often dependent on the developer being able to obtain financing.

Wiens said that in early 2021 Town staff will bring forward zoning requirements that would permit accessory apartments or second dwelling units within existing houses in Pelham. This initiative is supported by the provincial government and is seen as one approach to address housing affordability.

The Evanses noted that the March of Dimes charity has affordable rental properties in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, and Rhys is on a waiting list for a unit. But his fear is that he’ll be distanced from his parents, his friends, and his personal support system.

“He’d like to be here, where he’s grown up. He’s been a good advocate within the community for accessibility issues,” said his mom. For example, at the old arena on Haist Street, Rhys was pushing to get a ramp built, so that grandparents with accessibility issues could watch their grandkids play hockey.

“For us, the crux of the matter is what kind of community do we want?” said the Evanses. “Do we want an inclusive community that looks after people at all times in their life?”

Rhys would be happy to do his own grocery shopping and personal errands, but requires the services to be in place to assist him. He has a group of half a dozen friends who are similarly challenged.

“The whole process has been mentally and emotionally draining, thinking about what it’s going to be like for me in the future,” lamented Rhys. “I participate in the Joint Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Active Transportation Committee, and want to help improve accessibility in the community. It’s just getting more and more challenging as I try and do that.”