“Not every single piece of property can be used for affordable housing.”
— Richmond ward Coun. Stephen Montague
Anyone who has taken flight in a commercial jet knows the emergency drill that is announced prior to the plane’s takeoff.
In the event of a loss of cabin pressure while flying several thousand feet above the ground, oxygen masks will be automatically released above your seats. All passengers are asked to secure their own masks before assisting others.
The reason for this, of course, is because you won’t be able to help anyone if you fall unconscious due to lack of oxygen.
With this reasoning in mind, we suggest that Brandon City Council made the right decision on Monday night by approving the sale of the former Brandon Police Service Station land and building to Vionell Holdings.
By a 6-5 margin, council voted to accept the motion to sell the land and building to Vionell for $1,040,000, as the Sun reported earlier this week. As the city’s website notes, Vionell holdings will use the property to build a 122-unit, life-lease assisted living seniors’ facility, prior to which the company must complete a Phase 1 environmental assessment on the site at its own cost.
The units will be available at fair market value, and as such are not considered “affordable housing,” a situation that did not sit well with a number of councillors, including Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
The other two proposals that were under consideration included a plan by the Western Manitoba Seniors Non-Profit Housing Co-operative Ltd. for more seniors housing units for those with moderate incomes, and a three-part low-income housing proposal by the Canadian Mental Health Association for two four-unit townhouses, 30 smaller suites for singles and the construction of three 12-plexes.
As we reported, Decter Hirst made several passionate appeals in favour of affordable housing initiatives.
“There isn’t another available spot for this kind of investment for affordable housing right now,” she said. “We have done several projects where we have done them for a family at a time. There are hundreds of people on waiting lists. This is very, very (slow) return on investment. We have an affordable housing reserve, whose purpose is to do exactly what the (Canadian Mental Health Association and Western Manitoba Seniors Non-Profit Housing Co-op) are asking.”
Yet in spite of her pleas, and the fact that the city is preparing an affordable housing first strategy — which will be introduced by economic development officer Sandy Trudel toward the end of the year — a majority of councillors made what we believe to be the correct decision and chose the plan that will help fill the city coffers, not deplete them.
As Coun. Montague pointed out during the discussion before the vote, the new housing complex will generate about $100,000 in taxes per year over the next 20 years, on top of the $1.05 million purchase price.
“That’s a lot of money we can do affordable housing initiatives with in this community,” Montague said. “The other ones require a significant amount of immediate contributions from the city, and for the most part that’s money we don’t have right now.”
Quite right. While we agree that our elected officials must look at how best to aid those members of our community who are at the bottom end of the financial scale, we don’t believe the city can do so on its own, nor with the budget restraints it currently faces.
As Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) noted, it’s not realistic for the city to turn down proposals that will produce much-needed revenues. For the city to move forward on affordable housing initiatives, it must itself be on a solid financial footing before it can provide that kind of help.
Generating new tax revenues for the city is a great way to do that, provided council makes it an ongoing priority to divert tax revenues for that purpose.