Essa appeals to young homebuyers from GTA

By: Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
When Carolyn Court’s husband landed a job in Simcoe County, they packed up their Milton home and moved to Thornton in a heartbeat.
That was 11 years ago and the now 40-something couple haven’t looked back.
“There was more land up here and everyone’s fleeing the city and  coming up here for the cheaper prices,” Court said while walking her dog  along Thornton Avenue.
“I think we broke even when we bought up here, but the prices have risen a lot since then.”
The Courts are among hundreds of couples who saw the prices rise south of Essa and the lots shrink.
According to a Statistics Canada 2016 census, more well-heeled families are making their way north.
The median total household income in Essa Township was $87,243 in  2015 (latest figures available) with about 15 per cent of the population  earning that income, compared to the provincial average of 11 per cent.
In contrast, Barrie’s median household wage sat around $77,900 at that time and Simcoe County’s  median was $76,489.
Essa’s inhabitants are younger, too.
While the average age of residents in Oro-Medonte is 43.7 years and a  little less in Springwater at 43.4, Essa’s average resident is 37 years  old.
Simcoe-Grey MP Terry Dowdall rhymes off Essa’s attributes: it’s near  the Blue Mountains and Mount St. Louis Moonstone ski hills, it’s not far  from the Toronto or Lake Simcoe Regional airports, and it’s accessible  to both Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe.
“It’s not too far from Toronto and a lot of new people came up just  because of the price of the houses,” Dowdall said. “They’re 30 years  old, they’ve saved their down payment, and they just can’t buy down in  Toronto, even if you want to, so they come up here. And, it has a really  good tax rate. Tax rates in Essa are phenomenal in comparison to a lot  of the other municipalities; we’re very attractive to people.”
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) determines  municipal taxes by multiplying a home’s current value by the total tax  rate and then dividing by property class.  Essa’s residential property  tax is calculated at 0.678, whereas Springwater is rated at .0768 and  Oro-Medonte is 0.856.
Once families move to Essa, Dowdall said, they invite their friends and families to visit and they see Essa’s possibilities.
“Essa now has a lot of amenities; you know, the grocery stores, more  restaurants that are coming, the high school was a huge, huge addition  that completed the community,” he said of Nottawasaga Pines Secondary  School that opened in 2011. “We have the opportunity for people to buy  and stay and watch their kids go through their whole schooling. That  made quite a difference in the area.”
If there is any downside, both Dowdall and Essa Mayor Sandie  Macdonald agree it’s the dearth of homes for the boomer generation.  Looking 10 years down the road, Macdonald can see which amenities  communities will need to keep older residents satisfied.
Also on the mayor’s wish list would be more industrial businesses  taking up residence. Currently, Essa has a “huge commuting” population  heading south for the better-paying jobs, she said. However, there are  still good jobs to be had at Honda, Baxter and many residents work at  Canadian Forces Base Borden.
“Industrial (businesses) are a much higher paying tax (base) and it  balances taxes. Housing does not pay for itself,” Macdonald said.
Maintaining parkland and opening trails will become more vital than ever, she said.
“Just look at having the COVID-19, this pandemic, at least we have  green space where people can get out and walk,” she said. “We need to go  the way we’re going now, increase our trails, increase our green  spaces, and if this is a way of life for at least a few years of social  distancing, at least they can get out and (know) that it’s safe to go.”