Calls for affordable housing at former Harrow District High School going to Essex council

On Tuesday Essex town council will consider whether to put out a request for proposal to gauge interest in the development of the disused Harrow District High School site. The building, which has been closed since 2016, might be used to create more affordable housing in the area.

Closed since 2016, the former school could have a new lease of life

A school sign for Harrow High School
Harrow District High School closed down in 2016. (Google Maps)

Essex town council is looking at whether the former Harrow District High School site could be used to help alleviate the housing crunch.

The school in Harrow, Ont., has been closed since June 2016, and considerations for its future have been long in the making.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, councillors will  vote on a recommendation to put out a request for proposals to developers to build high-density housing at the site.

Over the years there have been several proposals for the site — including a potential community centre — but these have proven cost ineffective, according to Mayor Sherry Bondy. 

"[The school's] falling apart, there's mould.... There's close to $10 million to fix it up, so that is a lengthy and costly endeavour to have a community centre that's still an older building," Bondy told CBC News. "It doesn't make sense to retrofit an old building."

Sherry Bondy, Mayor of Essex stares at the camera in front of a new residential development in Essex.
Mayor of Essex, Sherry Bondy said she hopes council will approve putting forward proposals to housing developers. (Michael Evans/CBC)

Despite seeking to propose the old high school for affordable housing, the desire for some kind of community hub still remains — just at a different site. 

"We've heard loud and clear from residents in Harrow and Colchester that they want more access to indoor sports."

Getting on the ladder 

With a shortfall in housing in the community, and the subsequent cost to buy property, many in the community are concerned that people are struggling to get on the housing ladder, according to the report being presented to council.

I want to see affordable housing- Dawn Bezaire

Harrow resident Dawn Bezaire is passionate about the development of affordable housing within the school site. 

"I want to see affordable housing," she told CBC News. "If someone's making minimum wage and going to work every day. I want to see them be able to have access to this so that they can afford to live independently."

Bezaire and her husband's plan was to retire and downsize in the near future. But these ambitions have become a struggle as her adult children continue to live with her in the family home due to a lack of affordable housing.

"Both my children work full time," Bezaire said. "They've had the same job for years and years, and they just cannot afford to own a vehicle, a cell phone bill, pay insurance and then try to pay rent or a mortgage outside that." 

Council may push forward with the plan to develop the former school site via outside agencies, and Bondy is hoping that any development can emphasize affordability.

"We could partner with a housing agency who is going to guarantee there is affordable housing there," she said. "The possibilities are endless."

"I do think we need some newer affordable housing units in our town.... All of the buildings may not be affordable to everybody, but it's still going to be added housing stock in our municipality." 


Oliver Thompson is a writer, producer and musician. Originally from the UK, where he worked for the BBC, Oliver moved to Canada in 2018.