Woodstock Mayor highlights positives in address to the city - Grant Haven
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Woodstock Mayor highlights positives in address to the city

Woodstock Mayor highlights positives in address to the city

By Lee Griffi

The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce recently held its annual State of the City address and Mayor Jerry Acchione took the opportunity to highlight an issue top of many people’s minds – housing.

Acchione started his speech off at the South Gate Centre on a light-hearted note saying both he and his wife turned 50 this year meaning they can now become members of the senior centre. He mentioned the couple also became grandparents for the first time recently and waded his way into the housing challenges facing so many people in the city. He also took questions from attendees following his address.

“I know many families, including my own, are facing challenges with adult children looking for housing because there isn’t much out there that’s affordable these days. I don’t want my kids or anyone’s kids to leave Woodstock to make the dream of home ownership a reality.” 

He added the city also needs to ensure there are appropriate and affordable options for seniors and older adults to live independently and close to family for as long as they can. Acchione mentioned the city’s provincial assigned target of 5500 new homes in Woodstock by 2031 and how crucial it is to hit that number responsibly. “It will be important to protect our environment by using available land effectively to increase density appropriately. At our last council meeting, we heard from a number of delegations who accept and are willing to welcome growth in our community.

They don’t want to see it come at the expense of what Woodstock is known as, the Friendly City.” The city approved more than 3500 residential units in 2023, a number that accounts for almost all the vacant residentially zoned land. Acchione asked the crowd how many years the current supply of land would last. “We figure we’re good for about the next 10 years but that’s about it.”

The mayor also highlighted Woodstock’s rental vacancy rates which currently sit at 1.3 per cent for a one-bedroom unit and 0.3 per cent for a two-bedroom. “There is a dire need. We clearly need to work on the supply of residential units of all forms to make housing more attainable for more people. We welcome opportunities to increase density in our established neighbourhoods but we want to work collaboratively with developers.”

Acchione also talked about the importance of planning for all the other services that go along with growth. “We have highlighted the importance of taking a holistic view of supportive infrastructure including adequate health and child care services, educational institutions and recreational facilities. We know access to services, opportunities to learn and social interaction are important for people at all stages of life.”

He added too many people don’t have access to a primary care physician which is why the city has implemented several initiatives to help attract more doctors to Woodstock. 

“As part of this year’s budget council approved funding to offer scholarships for Woodstock residents currently enrolled in medical school and residency training. We will also be introducing a new forgivable loan program to help offset up to $30,000 of the cost associated with setting up a family practice in the city.”

Recreation is always something top of mind for ratepayers and residents and Acchione explained he is seeing more interest in the demand for rec and leisure programming, something the city has been able to deliver on.

“Since it was first identified in the city’s strategic plan we have expanded the number of programs being offered. We have a range of offerings for children and youth including drop-in turf time, arts and creative activities, recreational sports, and leadership programs. Last year we had a 57 per cent increase in our summer camp participation with over 1500 kids registered but get this. This year we already have 1600 registrations.”

He added the city is continuing to expand and plan for new community facilities to be able to deliver programs and services to help people be active and engaged. “Later this year we will be launching a feasibility study to inform the future of indoor community recreation facilities. As we look to decommission the Civic Centre Arena, we want to understand what the needs and wants of the community are so we can anticipate future budget demands.”

The homelessness crisis and other social problems that go along with it are some of the complaints heard around Woodstock and have been for many years. Acchione touched on the Mayor’s Task Force for Social Wellbeing during his address and talked about how it has continued to respond. “Our first year was spent developing a coordinated encampment response with other community partners to address the urgent issue in the city.”

He added Woodstock is working to address the concerns of residents and at the same time support those living in encampments. “Because of this coordinated response we are able to connect with vulnerable members of our community at the sites and ensure they get access to all services and resources to support them.”

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