Most people seem to agree that Orillia needs more affordable housing. But not everyone agrees on how to accomplish that.
Municipal politicians, however, have agreed they have a role to play.
On Monday night, at a council committee meeting, council approved a suite of incentives they hope might lead to more affordable housing in the city. They also opted not to offer a tax holiday to developers of affordable housing.
Decisions made by council committee are subject to ratification at Monday’s city council meeting.
Among the incentives approved were the following:
- The city could donate land;
- The city could provide a grant for the purchase price of land;
- The city could provide a grant to cover the development charges;
- The city could provide a grant to cover cost of all or part of the applicable building, planning and engineering review fees up to a max of $25,000;
- The city could provide a grant in the amount equal to all or part of the applicable ‘community benefits’; and
- The city could reduce the securities deposit to no less than 30% of the total value of the securities required to be posted.
While the incentives were given the green light, there is currently not enough money in the ‘bank’ to fund them.
During recent budget deliberations, council agreed to put $80,000 into a reserve account to help stimulate affordable housing; staff had recommended an investment of $500,000 to $1 million.
“Until the reserve is sufficiently funded, municipal incentives cannot be offered,” noted a staff report tabled at Monday’s meeting.
Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said affordable housing is a critical issue.
“It is one heck of an issue here and elsewhere around the province, the country and beyond,” said Clarke. “We do indeed have a low inventory of affordable housing and a corresponding low vacancy rate.”
He noted the city contributes $1.8 million annually to the County of Simcoe to help fund their affordable housing programs and noted the county will be creating about 100 affordable housing units in Orillia as part of its redevelopment of the former ODCVI property.
“I also understand that without legislative changes, I hope at the provincial level, but even at the municipal level … the issue probably isn’t going to get a heckuva lot better,” said the mayor, noting “there aren’t a lot of terrific examples of demonstrated successes.”
He said he hopes the affordable housing committee can continue exploring options and hopes those “evolve” over time.
Coun. Ted Emond agreed and urged the committee to dig deeper.
“I would like the committee to explore the issue a little more broadly and think more strategically about how our community can address the issue of homelessness,” said Emond.
He said that should include things other than physical buildings.
“How is it we would increase the average family income by $20,000 in the next 10 years ... what can we do to do that?” asked Emond. “Building housing isn’t going to do that.”
He said increasing income levels would mean “a lot more people could afford the housing that’s already available.
“I’m not suggesting housing isn't important, but I would like the committee to address this issue somewhat more strategically.”
Emond said affordable housing is a complex issue that can’t be fixed overnight. But he also warned that help is needed.
“I have constituents ... finding the annual increase in (municipal) taxes … is pressing them because they’re on a fixed income,” said Emond, noting they are coming to a “time in their life when their housing costs will go beyond affordability. That’s a problem.”
He referenced the municipality's and the community’s support of Building Hope and the county’s plans for ODCVI, saying: “I think this community is already doing a lot.”
He added he’s “not sure we’ve yet grasped the best way” to address the issue.
In addition to the incentives, council also agreed to the committee’s eligibility framework. For a project to be eligible, it must meet these criteria:
- Affordable housing project is located within the City of Orillia;
- Must be a government or not-for-profit organization managing the affordable housing project. Must provide affordable housing for a minimum of 20 years;
- For rental housing, the affordable housing project must also be approved to receive funds from Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC) and/or the County of Simcoe by way of federal and/or provincial and/or county funding;
- For rental housing, the affordable housing project must offer all units at rents which will not exceed 80% of the average market rent for a unit in Orillia; and
- For homeownership, the purchase price must not result in annual accommodation costs (comprised of mortgage and taxes) which do not exceed 30% of the gross annual household income of the occupants and the occupants’ gross annual household income must not exceed the median household income for Orillia.