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Council takes step toward assisting affordable housing

Longo's motion fast-tracks input from current project managers
Erik Karvinen
Erik Karvinen of Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. addressed council last night regarding the future course of handling development charges. Bob Liddycoat / Thorold News

Hired by the City to review Thorold’s development charges exemption program (DCEP), Erik Karvinen of Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. presented an overview and the firm’s recommendations at Tuesday’s council as part of the public meeting.

Council will consider the recommendations as part of the process in designing new guidelines for exemptions to Development Charges (DCs).

Among the firm’s recommendations was this one: 

Potential development of a City-wide affordable housing incentive program be explored outside of the development charge bylaw and in partnership with Niagara Region.

This sparked discussions about exempting development for what’s deemed “affordable housing” (see other recommendations below).

Addressing the recommendation that the city partner with the Niagara Region to set up programs, Coun. Fred Neale pointed out, “Not all our affordable housing projects are under the Region. Some are our own. Affordable housing was high on the list for all governments and for our community and they will all be in the downtown urban area. You are asking us to get rid of exemptions and to wait until everybody agrees what affordable housing means.”

“You will still be qualified for a downtown project; just not strictly on the basis of being affordable,” replied Karniven. “There is no affordable housing currently, so I don’t know what we’re removing specifically. We’re just not entertaining adding it specifically under the DC exemption framework. I totally agree that affordable housing is one of the most important issues that need to be addressed; not just under a DC review.”

Thorold is building a 60-unit structure without the Region, said Coun. John Kenny. “The group has been offered another piece of land to purchase. Is there anything we can put in place to assure people that once it’s started, we’re not going to change the rules? Everybody knows we’ve got all kinds of brownfields in Thorold and I would like to see them developed, but we need to let these people know that if they start, it won’t change in the middle of their projects.”

Coun. Anthony Longo asked if council could “be specific and pinpoint one corporation”—in this case, the Thorold Municipal Non-Profit Housing (TMNPH), to be exempt.

In Karniven’s opinion, council “would have to create a broader definition that would apply to other corporations.”

Sergio Paone, chair of TMNPH, spoke at the public meeting, saying, “I was surprised to see that there is no exemption for affordable housing.”

“Whenever we talk about affordable housing, everyone says they’re in favour but when push comes to shove,” projects often fall through the cracks, Paone added.

“I’m not saying we can’t explore options with Niagara Region, but why can’t we do something in the meantime? This idea that unless we have the perfect solution, we do nothing, always baffles me.”

People frequently support the types of exemptions that the firm has recommended, he stated—cleaning up brownfields, reducing urban sprawl through intensification, and fighting climate change through green building exemptions.

“The one glaring omission is affordable housing. Why omit one big one that is standing out like a sore thumb for something to be done about it? You can be very specific about providing exemptions for a specific group. I’m all for anything at all that helps to lower the waiting list for affordable housing. Exploring options with Niagara Region is too vague and will put a burden on the taxpayer. This council and previous councils have given exemptions to affordable housing, and I’m saying, put that into policy … so it’s entrenched,” he argued.

“It’s also in keeping with Thorold’s Official Plan to set targets for affordable housing. I have faith in this council that they will not support the recommendation” to exclude exemptions for affordable housing. “To continue to build the pricey type of homes we have in Thorold tends to increase the need for affordable housing because it increases the cost of housing. I really hope this council will do what’s best and not go with the recommendation to wait for some vague proposal that may or may not come with Niagara Region. Society needs affordable housing.”

Tim Collins, representing the brownfield redevelopment of Artisan Ridge off Beaverdams Road, agreed.

“Our project is the only DC in Thorold that has a target of being 50 per cent affordable,” he stated. “The old bylaw had the 25 per cent exemption for Smart Growth. We have worked extensively with staff to meet that and to start implementing green policy. We are encouraged that there is a brownfield development and we would like to work with the consultant. We entered this project” with the expectation that “we would get certain exemptions and to claw those back now” would not be fair, he suggested.

His firm has applied “for our next phase of 160 units.” While “looking to partner” with TMNPH; “doing a second project with them,” Collins explained, “The only way to meet the rental rates they want is to lower the DCs."

Affordable housing is "a very important issue," said Coun. Ken Sentance, "and I think we need to support it. We should look at controlling things ourselves on a case-by-case” basis.

Longo made a motion directing city staff to work with the consultant firm, TMNPH and Artisan Ridge to resolve the issue.

“We put this Thorold Municipal Non-Profit Housing project in jeopardy, the longer we take,” he stated. “We want to offer an exemption for this building. We need to be very specific and offer it to” TMNPH, “rather than open it up to all developers.”

The motion passed.

Other recommendations from Karvinen were:

• Remove the 50 per cent central urban area exemption and replace with a 25 per cent downtown area exemption with the boundary for the exemption being the “Downtown” and “Downtown Transitional” areas identified in the City’s Official Plan.

• The uses permitted for this 25 per cent exemption are those “Permitted Uses” as identified in section B1.2.2 of the City’s Official Plan.

• Add an additional 25 per cent exemption for developments that qualify for the 25 per cent downtown area exemption and attain verified green building certification from at least one registered third-party program.

• The City amend its C.I.P. (Canadian Institute of Planners) bylaw to note that any D.C. exemptions provided will decrease the amount eligible under the tax-based grant programs offered through the C.I.P.

• Continue to provide the 75 per cent brownfield Redevelopment D.C. exemption for all eligible developments; with revised wording, as follows: Development occurring in brownfields as defined by this by-law would be exempt from development charges for the eligible site remediation costs, up to a maximum of 75 per cent of the applicable charge.

• Add an additional 25 per cent exemption for developments that attain verified green building certification from at least one registered third-party program

• City amend its C.I.P. bylaw to note that any D.C. exemptions provided will decrease the amount eligible under the tax-based grant programs offered through the C.I.P.

• Continue to provide the 100 per cent D.C. exemption for all eligible development for public hospitals, colleges and places of worship.

• Continue to provide the 100 per cent D.C. exemption for all eligible agricultural development.

Under the current policy, Karvinen estimated it would cost the city $2.1 million over the next 10 years, if no changes are made. By implementing his firm’s recommendations, the cost would be reduced to $1.1 million.

Cathy Pelletier

About the Author: Cathy Pelletier

Cathy Pelletier is an award-winning newspaper journalist/editor who writes for
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