Mayor perturbed over developers’ inactivity on apartment rental units

Jay Pausner, Supervisor, Development Services presented a semi-annual housing report at Saugeen Shores Planning meeting on August 15th.

The in-depth report looks at the various steps that the Town has taken, and is taking, in an attempt to the meet the housing crisis.

In the report, Pausner pointed out that Council views attainable housing as a priority and has taken several steps to move the process along including, the removal of zoning barriers, the creation of a housing reserve fund, identification of potential surplus Town lands, building exemptions in the development charges By-law and the hiring of a Housing Coordinator.

“The idea is to continue to find progressive and innovative ways, and traditional ways, for steps that the town can take to make housing more attainable,” said Pausner.

In addition, the town has supported the Official Plan (OP) and zoning By-law revision to remove obstacles for Additional Residential Units (ARUs) on lots with a single-detached house, a semi-detached house or a townhouse.  ARUs are also allowed in accessory structures and include tiny homes or garden suites on suitable lots where there is a primary dwelling.  An ARU guide has also been published that provides direction and promotes best practices in creating new units.  An updated Zoning By-law promotes a housing supply and semi-detached and duplex homes are now allowed within most residential zones.

The maximum height along the Goderich Street corridor (Hwy. 21)has also been increased and accessibility hurdles removed.

“This whole Council has worked hard on housing,” said Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt. “and there are rental units on the horizon. I like the proposal for developers to develop on town-owned lands, I think that’s exciting. We (town) are the largest property owner in the municipality and there are lands that could be put to good use.”

The housing reserve fund that was established allows developers to contribute up to five per cent of development charges.  Myatt asked how many developers had taken advantage of supporting the Housing Reserve Fund and where the balance stood to date.

Pausner said that institutional builders were taking advantage and that builders who had asked for multiple building permits were asking to allocate funding.  The balance is at $124,752 and is available for Council to use to facilitate more attainable housing through program support, guideline development or supporting County projects or programming, at its discretion.

Councilor Cheryl Grace added that it was good to have a summary and see the tangible outcomes of the Attainable Housing Task Force. “What is entailed in the Urban Design Guidelines for residential zones?” she asked Pausner.

“What we’ve learned from looking at other communities, particularly Huron county and other small and growing municipalities is that they have some guidelines that can help align some of the planning guides, principles and policies to maintain a small-town feel or fit for development while integrating some infill and intensification policies as well,” said Pausner.  “Huron county specifically has a set of guidelines that look at ARUs, multi-plexes, walk-up apartments, townhouses and a series of changes that might take place in an existing neighbourhood that would help a community understand how those kinds of developments might fit in in a built environment.  When we update our Official Plan for infill and intensification, there will be a set of guidelines to go along with it so that Council will understand the impacts of their decisions and what that means for the development community and the residents who live in those neighbourhoods.”

Grace said that intensification is important but it was good that there is already something out there to be used as a model.  “It sounds as though we are really trying to achieve that balance that so many people are concerned about.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau added that the County is also working on intensification guidelines based on the work done by Huron County.

Councilor John Divinski said that the words affordable and attainable appear to be being used interchangeably.  “In my mind, they are two different things. Are we keeping tabs on how many affordable units we may have?”

Pausner agreed that the terms affordable and attainable are different.  “Affordability is very specifically about price.  When the Task Force looked at it it was meant to be an examination of affordability and accessibility and availability in terms of appropriate housing for the person or family that needed the housing.  Attainability is really what the town can do with its limited tool set and is about diversification and types of housing throughout the community. Attainability is also about increasing density.”

Divinski pointed out that there are two different stories.  “Attainable may, in fact, create the affordable.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau also agreed it was a good report.  “We are advancing in several different directions all at the same time.  When you’re facing a crisis, and we are facing a crisis, you have to zero in on the most achievable things that have the highest impact. For me, the primary goal is build rental units and subsidize rents … build rental units and subsidize rents.  Those are the two things at the municipal level that, between the town and the county, we can do.  The county has started with a very small baby step on the subsidized rent front and I hope to see that increase dramatically in 2023 and, hopefully, with the help of Saugeen Shores.”

The Mayor went on to say that many rental units have been approved in the last short while which will mean up to more than 700 rental units.  “When will these be built Jay?”

Pausner said that despite the direct question, the town could only go by the developers’ timing and the town could not say ‘you shall build now’.  “In my opinion, Barry’s Construction is in the best position to act quickly as they have access to means of building, and water and sewer are there, and they will get going right a way.”

“That’s one (developer),” said the Mayor.  “We have some great development going on and I don’t mean to diminish it. We have hotel construction, commercial, the paramedic station and a lot of single family homes, townhomes and additional units, but we really have to have those apartments.”

The Mayor indicated that he would like Pausner and the CAO to reach out to the developers whose buildings have been approved.  “Give them a call and tell them the town is eager to see those units under construction and see if you can get some timelines from them.”

It was obvious that the Mayor was perturbed over the apparent lack of activity when it comes to construction of rental apartment units that have been approved.

“People sometimes accuse me of getting grumpy. Sometimes I do get grumpy about certain things.  Waiting for these units will make me grumpy and, when I get grumpy, sometimes I don’t feel like approving single family developments.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like having developers get their next development approved, if they don’t build the thing we need now.  So, I think developers would be wise to get the apartment buildings under construction.  Hopefully, you (Jay) can pass that message on to them because it is a crisis. We all have to pull our weight.  The town has properties that we have to get under construction, we have to get support for Habitat for Humanity, work with the county, subsidize rents … we have a lot of work to do and are doing it.  However, we need our private sector partners, who have the privilege of developing lands in the town of Port Elgin, the town of Southampton and the township of Saugeen, to start building those apartment buildings. Give them a call … and tell them to get at it.”