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Should we chart a different course on affordable housing?

The Sault’s proposed new approach would focus more on incentives
Sault Ste. Marie’s Civic Centre

City council will be asked Monday to chuck a quarter-century-old policy requiring at least 30 per cent of large urban residential developments to be affordable housing as defined by the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Peter Tonazzo, the city's director of planning, will recommend a different approach, based more on incentives.

The 30 per cent requirement has been in Sault Ste. Marie's official plan since 1996.

According to Tonazzo, it was "the result of the relatively short-lived Comprehensive Set of Policy Statements, which was passed by Bob Rae’s provincial government and later repealed by the Mike Harris government."

"While many of the policies contained within the Comprehensive Set of Policy Statements were carried forward in subsequent provincial policy statements, the specific requirement that ‘opportunities will be provided for no less than 30 per cent of new dwelling units created through development, and intensification to be affordable housing’ was not," Tonazzo says.

"It is likely that in 1996, achieving defined affordable prices may have been attainable without additional subsidies. Also at that time, more subsidies from senior levels of government were available to achieve 30 per cent affordability in new builds."

As SooToday reported on Friday, Tonazzo will recommend on Monday that the 30 per cent affordable housing requirement be waived for a proposed development of 376 apartments and townhouses near the Giant Tiger store.

In a separate application to city council, Tonazzo will ask that existing housing policies be repealed from the official plan, and replaced with the following:

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing plays a vital role in the city's housing supply. The city encourages and supports the provision of affordable housing throughout the community.

For the purposes of the Official Plan, affordable housing is defined as follows:

In case of ownership housing, the least expensive of:

  • Housing for which the purchase price results in annual accommodation costs which do not exceed 30 per cent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income
  • Housing for which the purchase price is at least 10 per cent below the average purchase price of a resale unit in the regional market area

In case of rental housing, the least expensive of:

  • A unit for which the rent does not exceed 30 per cent of gross annual household income for low and moderate income households; or,
  • A unit for which the rent is at or below the average market rent of a unit in the regional market area.

Low and moderate income households:

  • In the case of ownership housing, households with incomes in the lowest 60 per cent of the income distribution for the regional market area; or,
  • In the case of rental housing, households with incomes in the lowest 60 per cent of the income distribution for renter households for the regional market area

To encourage affordable housing, the city shall ensure a minimum of 30 per cent of all dwelling units are affordable by:

  • Providing additional incentives for the provision of affordable housing, through a community improvement plan, which may include the waiving of planning application (rezoning, site plan control) fees, grants and tax rebates
  • Supporting a mixture of housing types, including infill development and residential intensification
  • Supporting the creation of accessory dwelling units
  • Supporting innovative housing design, such as smaller units (tiny homes) and alternative development standards such as reduced lot frontages, setbacks and parking requirements
  • Conducting ongoing monitoring on affordability levels
  • Maintaining a current, comprehensive understanding of funding opportunities for the creation of affordable housing and assisting applicants in accessing such funding
  • Prioritizing the review and processing of development proposals that include affordable dwelling units
  • Working with non-profit stakeholders that provide affordable and supportive housing units
  • Making municipally owned lands available for affordable housing
  • Giving preference to locating major new residential developments with affordable units within walking distance of amenities such as public transit, grocery stores, parks and other public services

Councillors will be asked to establish a local housing task force including relevant city staff (planning, finance and building), social services staff, other nonprofit housing providers and two members of city council.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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