(TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
More than 3,000 new dwelling units have been added in Brandon over the past 10 years, but affordable housing remains difficult to find.
Brandon’s residential construction has been strong for many years, but in spite of the increasing number of housing units in the city, affordable housing units remain in short supply, Brandon’s economic development officer said Monday.
Sandy Trudel presented to city council the first phase of a strategy meant to deal with Brandon’s affordable housing crunch. She said that there has been 3,200 new dwelling units added in the last decade, but the vacancy rate is 0.7 per cent and has been below one per cent for months.
"That is well below the three per cent deemed to represent a healthy market," Trudel said. "The last time Brandon was able to get their rental vacancy rate above three per cent was in 1990, when it was 3.1 per cent."
That, combined with the number of affordable housing units now available in Brandon that can be converted into market rent units — approximately 200 units in the next decade —shows the affordable housing crunch is going to get worse before it gets better. Trudel said in 15 years, 400 units will convert back to market rent status.
"With the rising cost of ownership and rent, families are often in accommodations that are substandard, far too small for their family size and the payments consume more than 30 per cent of their income," Trudel said. "CMHA has confirmed that since 2004, there are have been no one-bedroom apartments that rent out at rates that someone on social assistance can afford."
Trudel introduced to city council a plan that places an emphasis on ensuring when land is available that it be considered for affordable housing first whenever it is possible to do so.
"When you are looking at affordable housing being done in the community, it’s being done by non-profit organization and their largest barrier is the inability to access land," Trudel said. "First off, it’s to access the land, then it is to get that land at a price where it still makes affordable housing economically viable. Land is a critical component to the solution."
Trudel hopes that an affordable housing first strategy for surplus land owned by the city can encourage city administration to look at where it makes sense to have affordable housing units.
Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) asked Trudel what was happening with the 13 Massey Manor units initially allocated for Habitat for Humanity clients. Trudel said the units won’t be part of the Habitat for Humanity program any longer as they don’t follow the association’s mandate, but that those units would remain part of the affordable housing inventory operated by another group to be named at a later date.
Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview) asked if there were statistics showing the number of people looking for market rate housing compared to those seeking affordable housing options.
"When you look at vacancy rates, that is just those looking for market-rate accommodations," Trudel said. "It doesn’t speak to affordable housing units at all. I can assure you the demand for affordable housing and the vacancy rate would be negligible at this point. The marketplace in Brandon is a 0.7 vacancy rate."
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) asked why units wouldn’t be rented out at market rates if the property managers and owners could price the units at those rates.
"When you look at affordable housing, there are typically two different forms of private developers that deal in affordable housing," Trudel said. "There are smaller developers that are trying to get into the development world, gain some experience and need to have some assistance to make that happen. The other side of the spectrum is a developer that’s financially secure and has a desire to give back to the community."
Trudel said there are a limited number of developers that will continue to keep properties designated as affordable because they are ultimately in the market to make money.
"Those that are doing it because of a social conscience, there is a threshold to which they reach the point where they have contributed enough," Trudel said. "And those developers who are learning their stripes, once they reach the point where they have sufficient equity, they tend to move on to different types of projects that are typically at market rents."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 18, 2012