Mayor’s task force presents recommendations to improve housing affordability

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North Grenville council received a very thorough presentation at the council meeting last Tuesday from the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. The task force was established in January as a response to concerns the mayor, and other members of municipal council, heard about the lack of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families in North Grenville during the last municipal election campaign. Its mandate was to examine the current state of affordable housing in North Grenville, and identify the gaps and opportunities for improving housing affordability in the municipality.

After almost nine months of hard work, the task force has come up with a definition for what housing affordability is in terms of home ownership and renting in North Grenville, as well as 17 recommendations for council to implement over the next couple years. The task force identified an affordable home in North Grenville as costing 10% less than the average resale price in the area, which, in 2018, was $385,496, making the threshold for affordable housing $346,946. 106 homes sold for under $347,000 in 2018. However, average price of a home in North Grenville is on the rise, with it sitting at $424,868, as of July.

Calculating the affordable housing threshold in terms of rental properties proved to be more difficult, as there is a lack of data in this area. Because of this, the task force had to come up with their own formula for calculating affordable housing, using 2015 census data and the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) average market rents. They concluded that the average cost for a bachelor apartment in North Grenville is sitting at $926/month, making the affordable housing threshold (as defined by the County as 80 % of the average market rent) $741. Although the way the task force chose to calculate the affordable rent threshold hasn’t been used before, it is seen as reasonable by both the County and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing staff.

Task force representative, Carl Cannon, said at the meeting that the remaining recommendations were things that the council can control as a lower tier form of government. Perhaps the most impactful recommendation was to amend the municipality’s Official Plan and Zoning By-law to permit secondary dwelling units in the rural and urban areas. This is in compliance with the recently passed Bill C-108 which aims at increasing affordability in Ontario. “This is the single most effective means that you have, as a council, to increase the number of affordable rental units across this municipality,” Carl told council. By encouraging secondary dwelling units, the municipality will be allowing property owners to gain rental income, while also diversifying the types of rentals available and maximizing density by using existing infrastructure. The task force also suggested that the municipality prepare an information guide for residents who may want to include a secondary dwelling on their property, to further promote and help the process along. “It also recognizes, and would note, that council is actually promoting secondary dwelling units; they are positive and would like to see them happen,” Carl said.

Other recommendations included changing zoning bylaws to allow for smaller units, and promote affordable housing projects in the municipality. Council has already amended the by-law to forgo development charges on these types of projects, but Carl says they also have to look at the other fees associated with building in the municipality, such as building permit fees, parkland fees and the cost of service connections.

Further, the task force recommended that the municipality look at and list all potential lands that could be repurposed for affordable housing, including reclaimed land that is being sold because of tax arrears. The surplus lands identified could be used by trusted organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, which already has roots in the area, to provide housing for a family or families in need. They also recommended that affordable housing projects be top priority for water/sewer capacity allocation, as the municipality is currently looking at restricting developers ability to hook up to the system.

The last few recommendations involved being proactive in the municipality’s plan for vacant land, so they can guide its use when developers make applications for projects, as well as developing effective monitoring processes for affordable housing, taking into consideration information from the County, and possibly MPAC, if they can get them to share their data (which the task force was unable to do while conducting their research).

Finally, the task force suggested that an advisory committee be put in place for after the task force is disbanded in a few months, to ensure the continuation of their work, assist with monitoring, and take note of any policies and trends that may arise from senior levels of government as it relates to affordable housing.

The task force is continuing their work for the next few months and will bring a final presentation back to council as of January 31, 2020, with the final presentation to Committee of the Whole some time in February. Task force member, Colleen Lynas, says all their meetings are open to the public, and they are especially interested in hearing from people who have lived experiences with some of the challenges in accessing affordable housing in North Grenville.

For now, council has received the report and has directed staff to review it and come back to council in December with possible actions and timelines. All members of council, as well as some staff, offered their congratulations to the task force members for their hard work and attention to detail in preparing thorough and well thought-out recommendations. “I had a chance to review this report with Carl, and they did a very good job, and I’m really happy that staff have a clear document to be able work with,” said Director of Planning and Development Phillip Gerrard. “I look forward to it being finalized.”

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