Staff say progress has been made with affordable housing

(Gazette file photo)




County staff say there’s been some positive movement on the affordable housing front.

That was the takeaway from a discussion last week surrounding council’s accomplishments with the file to this point and what actions should be taken to address affordable housing moving forward. The discussion was prompted by councillor Bill Roberts at last Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Roberts said he wanted to ensure both councillors and staff were on the same page when it came to affordable housing priorities.

“I’m really just looking to make sure that we have a shared understanding of the issue,” Roberts said. “Perhaps a common appreciation that this is not going to be a one, two or three-year fix, that this is going to be a multi-year, likely multi-council solution if we get there and that it will, in fact, be costly.”

He said the $250,000 earmarked for affordable housing in the 2018 budget is “almost a gesture at this point” when compared to the sizeable task of fully addressing the issue. He asked staff whether staff could share any thoughts on the scope of that work and possible timelines for a staff report on affordable housing that’s expected to come forward.

Community development director Neil Carbone said the report is expected to come to council in the near future.

“We recognize the issue is extremely high priority in your corporate strategic plan,” he said. “There’s also urgency being expressed on the part of the public and not just from a social justice standpoint, but also from an economic development standpoint.”

He said a lot of municipal studies and research undertaken to date have shown that the current lack of affordable housing is stifling economic development where there is significant growth potential.

“We’re hearing that from a number of sectors in the county, so this is a top priority,” he said.

Despite that challenge, Carbone said there has been progress made when looking into various models for delivering affordable housing. While there’s no magic bullet, the department has investigated several successful examples of ways to address affordable housing, he said.

Those include private sector partnerships.

“In the interest of trying to make it as cost-effective as possible and not any more of a burden on the County’s administration and financial resources as it needs to be, we’re exploring private sector options as well,” Carbone said. “At least so far, there are a variety of private-public partnership examples that we’ve been able to look at that are quite reasonable and have been quite successful.”

He said council should at least be aware that there are viable options in partnering with the private sector in addition to not-for-profit options. There are also viable options where the municipality could provide incentives and support rather than becoming an operator.

It’s not an issue that’s being worked on in isolation, Carbone said. Multiple County departments and external agencies are working collaboratively from finance, to planning, to social services, he said.

“A great deal of progress has been made and the next step will be for staff within that working group to bring forward our recommendations with background that will support those recommendations to council,” he said. “We are looking to take action in fairly short order because it’s a priority not only for you, but for a number of different sectors.”