The major topic of discussion at Monday night’s city council meeting was a controversial provincial affordable housing bill that would give municipalities the power to require developers to include low-income housing in new residential developments.
Several people made presentations to council in opposition to Bill 7, including 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.
Jason Roblin of Vionell Holdings said Bill 7 is not the answer, because it could potentially make developers go to "more business-friendly regions."
"Shifting responsibility to developers, will increase costs throughout the housing spectrum," he said, adding this will also create challenges for financing.
"Bill 7 is not an attempt by municipalities to correct the shortage of affordable housing, it is passing the responsibility on to the private sector," Roblin said. "Why would this municipality and province force developers to create affordable housing when they could work together to achieve this goal?"
Another concern Roblin had was the fact that Bill 7 has been drafted by politicians, with no consultation with developers and yet developers are expected to pay for these changes.
There were several 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, Cory Szczepanski of Brandon and District Labour Council.
"I’m here for the voice of the little guy, the workers, the contractors, the subcontractors … (who) rely on the developers for their work," Ken Hardy, President of the Construction Association of Rural Manitoba 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."
Grouette suggested that Bill 7 provides "one more option for municipalities like Brandon to use as they see fit."
The bill recently received first reading in the legislature. Mayor Shari Decter Hirst is in support of the bill.
Municipalities can take a mandatory, incentive-based or hybrid approach to requiring affordable housing, through inclusionary zoning.
Once inclusionary zoning is enacted as a tool for affordable housing, the municipality will specify a certain percentage of all new construction that is built, rented or sold at a level that is affordable to low- to moderate-income earners.
In the provincial press release, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst is quoted as saying:
"We are looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity and strongly encourage other municipalities dealing with affordable housing challenges to do the same."
Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) criticized the bill, suggesting the province was imposing rules that would discourage business in the province.
The motion in front of council was to request the provincial government to withdraw Bill 7 and renew consultations, including consultations with Manitoba and Brandon developers.
Due to lengthy delegations and debate on the subject, the decision on the motion hadn’t been made by press time.