This Northern Ontario town is selling land for less than the cost of a Subway sandwich. But there’s a catch

vacant plot of land with house icon Photo by Francesco Scatena/Shutterstock

Ten dollars for a prime piece of land? Sounds too good to be true. But the Town of Cochrane, Ont., north of Timmins, is offering a sliver of hope amidst a country-wide housing crisis.

During a recent meeting, Cochrane’s town council adopted a proposal that would allow the municipality to sell residential lots for as low as $10 while also offering a property tax rebate starting next year.

“These are typically $20,000 to $40,000 lots that we’re going to provide for as low as $10,” says Peter Politis, Cochrane’s mayor. “The main catch is that you have to build a home.”

The town owns approximately 400 vacant lots that it has set aside to sell at discounted prices. The rebate program is a response to the area’s growing mining industry. Batteries for electric vehicles are driving demand for lithium and nickel. Located between Cochrane and Timmins is the largest base metal mine in the country, which plans to expand its operations to meet demand. “They’re going to require over a thousand employees,” Politis says.

With a labour boom imminent, the town is hoping their proposal will bring in new residents. Covid accelerated many people’s retirement plans which diminished the number of working residents in the town. Politis estimates that 45 per cent of Northern Ontario’s workforce will be retiring between 2020 and 2030, adding to the decline.

In addition, Politis says Cochrane wants to give hope to a younger generation that believes they’ll never be able to afford a home. “The quintessential Canadian dream is to own a home and raise a family. And we’re sending out the message that not only can you own a home here, but we’ll give you a leg up financially to get your family up and going,” Politis says. “And it’s in one of the best backyards on the planet.”

This doesn’t mean that the rebate program is only available to working-age buyers. Politis says that anyone contributing to the housing inventory is eligible, regardless of age. So, anyone building a new home on a vacant lot can receive a rebate. But someone who buys an existing home and tears it down wouldn’t be eligible.

While the municipality has no say over the sales price of private lots, if the seller offers a significant discount, they could receive a tax rebate. The town has also been in discussion with developers about building subdivisions and retirement communities. The developers would receive these lots at discounted prices, and the municipality would have no control over the price they were resold to buyers. So the town is being selective about who it does business with.

“If we introduce a building agreement with a developer, we’re going to ask them to bid,” Politis says. “We’re giving them these properties, virtually for free, so we want to know how they’re going to invest back in the community to help, not only sell homes but to provide for some of the other needs our community has.”

At the moment the tax rebate portion of the program is still being fleshed out, and the town hopes to launch it in January 2024. Some options being considered are waiving the property taxes over the first few years.

The program has some current Cochrane residents concerned about how it might affect them. Users on the Cochrane Facebook page responded to the announcement with worries over raised taxes, and whether the program would divert funds from other needs including senior care and road maintenance.

But Politis says current residents won’t see any tax increases from the program. In fact, he argues the new residents will provide a surplus of revenue for the town. The vacant lots owned by the municipality aren’t generating any revenue for Cochrane at the moment. But with new residents moving in and building homes, it will provide an economic stimulus.

“When we built the program, we wanted to make sure Cochrane residents don’t get lost,” Politis says. “So, even a current resident, if they decide they’re going to build a home then they will receive the benefits as well.”

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