“Do we have work right now at the town hall? You bet!” exclaims Mayor André Brunette of Huntingdon, as he gestures to several houses under construction at one of 14 different residential development projects that are currently underway. All are part of a surging real estate market; the projects are expected to add at least 900 new faces to the community, which already includes a significant number of newcomers calling the town home. Add to this a parallel rise in commercial development, and one might say Huntingdon is booming.
“Most of them are already purchased,” says Brunette, noting that it seems promoters and construction companies break ground for new buildings only once they have been sold or leased. He says at least 16 dwellings will be classified as “affordable” or social housing units, while another project will focus on providing homes for senior citizens. “A lot of commercial buildings are also coming,” says Brunette, who confirms that a Maxi supermarket and a Tim Horton’s coffee shop will be among the new businesses moving into town.
“It changes the dynamic of the town, but not in a bad way,” Brunette says of the developments, while he maintains that resources such as water will not be an issue as the town grows. He points out the administration has been in communication with both the New Frontiers School Board and the Centre de services scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands to ensure the elementary schools will be able to accommodate new students. The CSSVT confirmed in November that a request has been filed to expand the number of classrooms at École Notre-Dame.
“It is a lot of hard work,” Brunette admits. “People don’t realize the legwork involved with this,” he adds. The last housing boom was in the early 1970s, he notes, suggesting the town was due for an influx of new homes
“It is a nice pace,” says Brunette, who insists the town is growing in a responsible way. The projects are mixed residential developments that include some detached single-family homes as well as multi-family residences, condo-style apartments, townhouses, and triplexes.
The mayor says he is not especially concerned with the real estate market outpricing current residents and driving up rental prices. “Housing has sort of calmed down now,” he explains, while acknowledging it is mostly new people from outside the area moving in. As of now, the residents are coming from across the province, with several moving from surrounding urban areas including Valleyfield, Chateauguay, and Beauharnois, but also from as far away as Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary.
Rémi Pelletier, the director of the Corporation Développement Communautaire du Haut-Saint-Laurent (CDC), agrees wholeheartedly that the pace of development is not a concern. “We need more doors!” he exclaims, noting the town’s strategy for density is more important. He admits rental prices are beyond the range of affordability for many living in town, but he says a larger concern is the town’s preference for private developers over community-based initiatives. “We would like to see a better balance between private firms and the community,” he says, noting the local organizations invested in affordable housing are hopeful that the town may come knocking.
2023 budget and spending
The town of Huntingdon approved a balanced budget, with around $5.15 million planned in expenses for 2023. “We really took our time to do this budget,” Brunette says, explaining the council was careful to take inflation into consideration. “We lowered the property taxes, and we kept the services taxes at the same rate as last year,” he says, noting this will be the tenth year in a row the town has frozen tax rates. “It is a record in Quebec!” he exclaims.
Some of the expenses relate directly to the ongoing development projects and the necessary infrastructure spending required to welcome new residents. The most significant expense for 2023, however, is a $1.8 million infrastructure project to replace the aqueduct network on Hunter Street.
Brunette says that whether he is working for newcomers to the town or long-time residents, he is especially proud of the legacy he and the current municipal council are building. “I just love what I am doing. I have the best administrators, and the council is all on board,” he says. “It makes my job a lot easier.”