Affordable housing a major issue for Council

Affordable housing has become a major issue not only across the province and country but is also the sole focus of the 2020 Incentives Program in Saugeen Shores.

There is also an accelerating exponential need to provide affordable and attainable housing that is not being alleviated from policy change alone. The urgency of the need for affordable housing has resulted in Saugeen Shores forming the Attainable Housing Task Force which is looking at ways to address housing needs.

When it comes to housing in Saugeen Shores and communities along the Lake Huron shoreline in general, it continues to be a deterrent for people who work in the service industry, for single parent families and for new people who may want to move to the area but cannot afford whatever housing is available.  Therefore, it is difficult for new businesses to open or existing ones to continue operating in Saugeen Shores without housing needs being met.

Under the program, affordable/attainable housing includes;

  • rental housing in which the monthly rent is at or below $777 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment unit, or $1,063 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment or townhouse unit (Source: October 2019 CMHC rent survey)
  • housing which is for sale at a price at or below $300,000

Suppose that a person earns $15/hr (over the minimum wage) and works the full 40-hour week earning, approximately after tax, $1,776/month.  Now, suppose that same person is a single parent with one, or more children, where daycare now has to be factored in.  Now, suppose it is a person who is called in to work for four hours a day intermittently, as many are, so that he/she has to work two or three jobs just to meet expenses.  According to housing guidelines, no one should have to spend more than 30 per cent on a roof over their heads.  $1,776 @ 30% = $536.80.

Mayor Luke Charbonneau at the Monday night (Aug. 10) meeting of Council said that he is not incentivizing single family homes.  “Housing at $300,000 is not really affordable from my standpoint and what we really need is rental housing and rental units that people can afford.  That’s the most pressing need and I would spend all the money on incentivizing the building of rental units and forget housing under $300,000.  The people who are most in need is where we have to start and those people are looking for rentals.”

Among the requirements proposed are that affordable housing developments or redevelopments should result in a net increase of five or more affordable housing dwelling units, must be eligible for a building permit after January 2020, must provide for rental units and must be agreeable to maintaining rents at the affordable rental rate for at least five years.

Councilor Jami Smith suggested that the rental rate be based on a percentage below market rates rather than a dollar amount over a longer period of time.

Vice-Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said that the program is a good news story but that he also would like to see the rental time limit increased to 10 years to avoid a possible doubling of rent after the five-year agreement.  “If we can convince some our developers to allocate some of their units to affordable housing where rents are more attainable, then that’s a good thing.”

CAO David Smith pointed out however, that a 10-year extension can be perceived as too restrictive to developers.  “I would suggest you start with the five-year because if you start with the 10-year, there will be zero uptake (by developers).  There are rent controls in Ontario subject to rental increases.”

Myatt agreed with the CAO when it comes to restrictions possibly deterring developers.  “We have to look at alternatives, such as tiny homes, where developers can build them for $150,000 and perhaps they could be rented out for less. I agree with the Mayor that $300,000 is not affordable but a tiny home could be and they are being introduced all across the province.”

Councilor John Rich introduced another aspect of housing and that was the issue around secondary suites.  “A person, who perhaps has a home and is on the edge of being able to maintain it, could with a suite have a little income that helps them pay for their home and also helps to provide affordable housing for people who want to rent.  It’s something that I have always felt would be beneficial in our community.”

“If we are going to look at incentivizing secondary suites,” said Mayor Charbonneau, “we are going to have to get our act together when it comes to approving them and we haven’t figured that out yet.”

Program objectives are to increase the supply of affordable housing in accordance with the Economic Development Strategic Plan; to have the affordable housing stock constructed by the private sector; maximize the number of units within the approved funding and to provide a process that is simple, quick and effective.

“We also have to pay attention to the rules that CMHC (Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation) has and the funding that they provide,” added Mayor Charbonneau.  “What we want is for our program to align with CHMC’s program so that we aren’t making it impossible for developers to get one type of funding or the other.”

A Town survey will be launched in September to determine, among other things, the types of housing that are needed in the community.

“What drives this is that there are opportunities on the ground right now,” pointed out Mayor Charbonneau, “for us to incentivize apartment construction that include affordable rental rates and, if we get this program in place, we can actually see some progress.  If we can get this in place, this is step one and more can come.  We are a pretty well-off community and we can do more to help those in need and in the future.”

Recommendations in the 2018 Economic Development Strategic Plan included the implementation of incentive programs aimed at creating more affordable housing, and attracting nuclear support service businesses, hotels, and manufacturing.

The recommendation at Monday night’s meeting was that Council adopt the 2020 Community Incentives Program for Affordable Housing and re-allocate $60,000 from the Prior Year Capital Reserve and allocate $90,000 from the Future Capital Reserve to the 2020 Economic Development Incentive Program.