The former Brandon Police Service building on Tuesday evening. On Nov. 19, Brandon City Council approved the sale of the building and the land at 1340 10th St. to Vionell Holdings for a 122-unit, assisted living seniors’ life-lease facility in a 6-5 vote. Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was among those voting against the sale, saying the property should be used for an affordable housing initiative.
(COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
If the city goes forward with a bylaw that would require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable housing, they may just choose to take their business elsewhere, says one Brandon city councillor.
Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) said he is concerned about the recent provincial legislative changes (Bill 7) to increase affordable housing options across Manitoba.
"The top-down approach is not going to be appreciated by the development community, I know that," McCrae said.
"The more things we pile on to the business community in our province to make us less competitive with other provinces, away they go … Business goes where there’s money to be made."
Last week, the province announced that municipalities will now have the authority to encourage or require new residential developments to include homes that are affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
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."
McCrae said he takes issue with the fact that Decter Hirst spoke on behalf of the entire council.
"We don’t have any council resolution that expresses support," McCrae said. "That puts me in the position of being viewed by the rest of the world as one who feels the same, and that’s just not correct."
At Monday night’s council meeting a notice of motion was given for the Dec. 17 meeting, requesting the province withdraw Bill 7 and renew consultations, including consultations with Manitoba and Brandon developers.
"We all want to see housing in Brandon that everybody who needs a home can afford," McCrae said. "But that doesn’t mean we have to do it with this type of approach. A multi-party approach is far more successful, and far more desirable."
J&G Homes president Jared Jacobson questions why it would be the private sector’s responsibility to provide affordable housing.
"If no other levels of government are doing it in town, why would it be the private sector’s responsibility?" he said.
Since news of Bill 7 and the mayor’s comments came out last week, Jacobson said there have been many questions that have yet to be answered. What is the definition of affordable housing, what does it look like, what is the affordable price range, rent range?
The city is still working on many of those definitions and an affordable housing plan is expected to be presented to council early next year.
In Jacobson’s view, the company does build affordable homes, and the reality is, home ownership may not be for everyone.
"Can everybody own a home? Or is it out of some people’s price range?" he said. "We have rentals for a reason, too. Your taxes and everything are included in rent."
One misconception in the community regarding developers, Jacobson said is that they are getting "freebies" from the city.
"We’re putting all the roads and infrastructure in out of pocket," he said. "You might have some cost-sharing on certain things … but most of the hard costs for infrastructure and paving is the developer."
Jacobson said he would be willing to work with the province and the city, however would appreciate being part of the discussions before a bill is passed.
"It needs to be an open discussion not a forced thing," he said. "They’re not controlling car dealers and how much they can charge for cars or making affordable cars, so why are they making developers do that? It’s kind of picking on one sector."
Mayor Decter Hirst said they have always intended to have consultations with developers, something she says is "critically important."
"I think developers are worried that it’s going to cost them profits," she said. "That’s one of the reasons why we need to have developers at the table so that they can understand that building a strong community is good for everyone ... We can’t have wildly successful residential developments that are perhaps unaffordable for many of the people in our community, we have to ensure that we build a strong city together."
As for her support for Bill 7 on behalf of council, Decter Hirst makes no apologies.
"People are forgetting that this has already been a path that city council has gone down, prior to me even being in the mayor’s chair," she said. "It’s not new and scary, this is familiar, and this has been identified as a priority by our council, has been developed and worked on by our staff and I look forward to seeing what the next steps are going to be."
Inclusionary zoning has been part of strategic planning sessions for the past two years.
"It was certainly identified at the last strategic planning session we had that we would need enabling legislation to go forward with it," Decter Hirst said. "So I’m confused as to why Councillor McCrae doesn’t understand this has been a long-standing identified priority for council, both in action as well as in word."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 5, 2012