BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Construction of homes, condos and apartment complexes has been booming in Brandon’s south end. City council approved a motion on Monday night asking the provincial government to withdraw Bill 7, which would give municipalities the power to require developers to include low-income housing in new residential developments.
City council will ask the province to withdraw Bill 7 and renew consultations with developers.
The bill, which recently received first reading in the legislature, would give municipalities the power to require developers to include low-income housing in new residential developments.
After several delegations in opposition of the bill and a lengthy debate Monday night, councillors voted 8-3 in support of the motion put forward by Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows), requesting the province withdraw Bill 7.
"I hope the Government of Manitoba will recognize the democratic process that we went through in the City of Brandon," McCrae said. "Perhaps the (province) will reconsider and do the right thing, and just withdraw that bill and engage in some really meaningful consultations with people who actually build housing and get some housing built."
If Bill 7 does get approved, municipalities would be able to take a mandatory, incentive-based or hybrid approach to requiring affordable housing, through inclusionary zoning.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, along with Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres) and Coun. Garth Rice (South Centre) voted against the motion.
Decter Hirst said Bill 7 would have been "another tool in the city’s tool belt" for affordable housing.
"We know what we’ve got now isn’t working effectively enough to address the need," Decter Hirst said at Monday’s meeting. "The need is getting ahead of us. We have to do something different."
Decter Hirst said inclusionary zoning, when coupled with incentive bonusing has worked in many communities in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
"I’m sure with best efforts of the private sector, construction community and real estate community in Brandon, we could come up with a plan that would work in Brandon as well," she said. "Unfortunately we just won’t get that opportunity."
Councillors Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine), Corey Roberts (Rosser), Murray Blight (Victoria), Jeff Harwood (University), Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes), Stephen Montague (Richmond), Len Isleifson (Riverview), and McCrae voted in support of the motion.
Ken Hardy, president of the Construction Association of Rural Manitoba made a presentation to city council in firm opposition to Bill 7.
"I’m here for the voice of the little guy, the workers, the contractors, the subcontractors … (who) rely on the developers for their work," Hardy said. "Small business owners, employing people, raising a family and paying taxes … If developers can’t make a profit here, they’ll go elsewhere … This Bill 7 has the potential to chase away not just the big players, it’ll also chase away small business."
Also in opposition of the bill was Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Nate Andrews, Jason Roblin of Vionell Holdings, Michael Barrett of the Brandon Real Estate Board and Steve McMillan of VBJ Developments.
There were also a few presentations in favour of the bill, including Glen Kruck, regional director with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Harley Grouette, chair of Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and Cory Szczepanski of Brandon and District Labour Council.
"This legislation will help municipalities and developers come up with a plan," Szczepanski said. "Good inclusionary zoning programs are flexible and include tools to encourage developers to build affordable housing."
One topic that came up a number of times in the discussion was the notion that affordable housing hasn’t been defined for Brandon.
"There’s nothing really nailed down that tells us, tells the developers, tells the general public what exactly we’re talking about when we’re using the term affordable housing," Harwood said.
Decter Hirst called that discussion a bit of a "red herring."
"I think it’s really important that we not get distracted by this clarion call for a definition, because affordable means something different to everyone," Decter Hirst said. "What’s affordable for a senior on a fixed income is very different than what’s affordable to the president of the real estate association, because they have different income levels, they have different capacity to grow that income."
A household that spends less than 30 per cent of their monthly income on housing costs, is one example of an affordable housing definition often used.
Decter Hirst said a "deep concern" she has is the fact that many people can afford a $150,000 mortgage, but can’t find a house of that value in Brandon without subsidy.
"We all know how important a stable and safe home is for children," she said. "I think … the community has got a very short-sighted focus, when they’re not thinking about where the community is going … in the next five or 10 years in terms of size and in terms of the need in the community."
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said the party is in support of affordable housing initiatives but have a concern with the province’s "top-down approach."
"Obviously ... they failed to consult fully and we feel that that’s something that they really failed to do on this particular bill," Helwer said.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell said the government will await the correspondence from the City of Brandon on this matter and the minister will take it under advisement.
"We’re respectful of the process that took place and have a legislative schedule that would allow for significant public discussion to take place," he said.
Second reading of Bill 7 will happen this spring.
"The issue of affordable housing is a critical one," Caldwell said. "It needs to be addressed in a serious fashion."
He said he will be meeting with local developers on the issue and is interested in hearing opinions and strategies for achieving more affordable housing in Brandon.
"Criticism is a good thing when it’s constructive and it provides for a positive outcome," he said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 19, 2012