Just as housing costs skyrocket and monthly rent goes through the roof in Brandon, the province has introduced legislative changes to increase affordable housing options across the province.
The City of Brandon will now have the authority to encourage or require new residential developments to include homes that are affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
“For the first time, it’s going to give us something beyond all-or-nothing,” said Mayor Shari Decter Hirst. “It’s going to be very good for Brandon.”
Municipalities can take a mandatory, incentive-based or hybrid approach to requiring affordable housing, through inclusionary zoning.
The goal is to create integrated neighbourhoods that have a diverse income level within them.
“But yet when you look in the neighbourhood, you’re not able to identify homes as being different than others, other than any normal difference you would see,” said Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development. “You can see a difference in size, you can see a difference in structure and such, but … the vision would be to have … a cohesive neighbourhood that is a blend of diverse income levels.”
While a lot of work still needs to be done, Trudel said the legislation is an “important part of the tool kit” that will allow the city to move forward.
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.
“Our hope and vision for this tool is to have it as flexible as possible while still achieving the results we need,” Trudel said.
The plan is to reach out to the development community to come up with what would work best for both the city and the private sector.
“We want to achieve the goal of increasing affordable housing, but at the same time, we want to ensure that the growth in the housing continuum continues, so it’s striking that balance,” Trudel said.
If a new development is more high-end, that doesn’t bode well with a less-costly venture, there may be an option where that developer could contribute land elsewhere, Trudel explained.
As for who would be eligible for affordable housing, Trudel said they are looking at a family income that does not exceed $65,000 for rental properties.
“The province has a subsidized benchmark that they use, but there are people who are above that benchmark that are in housing that isn’t affordable to them,” Decter Hirst said. “They’re still spending more than a third of their income on accommodation, which means that they struggle to put groceries on the table for their children and to have any kind of quality of life because everything that they’ve got is putting a roof over their head.”
Brandon Real Estate Board president Sandy Donald said single-family bungalows have gone up from roughly $150,000 to $220,000 just in the past six years.
While he agrees that affordable housing is a much-needed initiative, Donald says it may put “more of a burden on the developer.”
“We’re talking zero vacancy rate here in Brandon as far as rental units are concerned,” he said. “So I really don’t think it’s a bad thing, as long as it’s done right.”
The city has been working on an affordable housing strategy since 2007. A city plan will be presented to council early in the new year.
New rental units that are coming into the market are coming in at rates “well above what anyone every dreamt you would be paying in Brandon,” Trudel said.
“Homes that were deemed entry-level homes 10 years ago, have more than doubled in price today,” Trudel said. “So there’s pressures in all parts of the affordable housing continuum.”
While there is no set timeline on this initiative, Trudel said they would like to see it “sooner than later.”
“More important for me on this initiative is that we do it right, and we actually spend the time that’s required to understand both the challenges associated with affordable housing and the needs of developers to figure out a way in which it makes sense for both,” she said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 28, 2012