Agreeing on affordable housing strategy the easy part, getting buy-in from residents promises to be a harder task

A Deeper Look

“The whole point of the study is to see if it is feasible. The purpose of this grant is to allow organizations, who don’t have the capacity to understand what is possible, what the art of the possible would be, but also the implications so they can take it to their governing bodies … and make an informed decision.” – Mayor Jeff Lehman

Given the reality that Barrie is now the most expensive community in Ontario for rental accommodation, more so than Toronto says Mayor Jeff Lehman, efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing not only makes sense, it would seem to be a priority to help many people continue to call this community home.
So, council’s action last week to perhaps free up some vacant institutional-type land for affordable housing is a commendable step, but getting approval from council for the Lehman-led initiative was the easy part. The heavy lifting will come when residents adjacent to these properties learn that large affordable housing projects are proposed for their neighbourhoods.
The idea is to provide non-profit or charitable owners of these institutional lands, mostly churches, the opportunity to unearth the development opportunities for the vacant parts of their properties, empty parking lots and such. The motion council supported would ask the Development Services Department, backed by the Affordable Housing Task Force, to contact eligible property owners, and invite them to discuss the potential for building affordable housing on their properties, on lands which now sit empty.
The motion continues that once projects are determined, staff connect with consultants to conduct feasibility studies about developing properties for affordable housing projects, and fund 10 studies up to $20,000 each. The money would come from the Community Benefit Reserve.
Amendments to the motion opened the process to properties in different zoning designations, including residential, and looking for ways to reduce application costs. Another proposed addition by Ward 9 councillor Sergio Morales to extend the program to student affordable housing failed to get support.
“The whole point of the study is to see if it is feasible,” says Lehman. “The purpose of this grant is to allow organizations, who don’t have the capacity to understand what is possible, what the art of the possible would be, but also the implications so they can take it to their governing bodies … and make an informed decision.”
The task force, formed in April along with two others – the Performing Arts Centre Task Force and the Market Precinct Task Force – was struck to coordinate County, City, and charitable/not-for-profit housing projects and policies, and to aggressively expand the supply of affordable housing, with particular emphasis on addressing the hardest to house.
The job in front of the task force would seem to be formidable. According to a June 21 memo, the City’s 2015 affordable housing strategy set a goal of creating 840 affordable housing units by 2024; one of the Official Plan’s goals is to have at least ten percent of all new residential development be affordable housing. To aid in this goal, the City did the following:
• made it easier to build second suites and provide other forms of affordable housing by amending the zoning bylaw
• adapted the Community Improvement Plan(CIP) to include an Affordable Housing Development Grant
• helped several purpose-built rental projects, including some with affordable units, with the development approvals process
“Currently, 872 new units have been created. However, only occupied units are included in the count as 409 of these units are unfunded second suites; using the adjusted affordability percentage for unfunded second suites (a Simcoe County metric), the total current amount of affordable housing units in Barrie would actually be 619. In addition, only 14 percent are units in new affordable rental developments (there is a need for more of this type of housing in Barrie),” reads the memo.
Last year $1,777,780 was awarded in Affordable Housing Development Grants through the CIP to support future affordable housing projects; Development Services continues to support those applying to the Rapid Housing Initiative, or any others, reads the memo. Next steps for the task force include:
• solidify the task force purpose and vision
• creating policy/mechanism to collect affordable housing cash contributions (in lieu of units from developers)
• define the task force scope
• create a goal-driven project plan to guide the task force
• hold public meeting for further proposed amendments to the zoning bylaw
• waive as many City fees as possible for affordable housing projects
Two main obstacles face the task force and the effort to build more affordable housing, says Lehman: funding and land availability.
“Far too often our projects are getting stalled as we wait for response on a particular program of housing funding. We need a sustainable local source if we are going to ourselves, as a city, or county, or community, tackle this issue.”
Morales says the latest effort to create more affordable housing in Barrie is “probably the most significant thing we have done in (the last) year and a half to increase affordability” in the city, but cautioned council it will need to be ready for the reality of resistance from residents not that enamoured by the idea of a possibly large development, affordable housing or not, popping up in their neighbourhoods, on vacant church lands and such.
As said, agreeing this is a good idea is the easy part. Dealing with potentially hundreds of angry residents is entirely different. Let’s see if council has the political will to see it through.

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