Brandon city councillors got a stark reminder at the depth of the challenge they face when it comes to the city’s “affordable” housing shortage.
Not only is there no end in sight to Brandon’s ongoing housing crunch, the city’s economic development officer, Sandy Trudel, suggests the situation will get worse before it gets better.
While 3,200 new dwelling units have been added to the city’s housing stock over the last 10 years, the vacancy rate is 0.7 per cent and has been below one per cent for months. That’s well below the three per cent average thought to represent a healthy market.
Added to this situation is the fact that about 200 affordable housing units — perhaps attainable housing would be a better term — could well be converted to market rent units before the end of a decade from now. In 15 years, that number rises to 400.
Though there are plenty of homes available in the city, the market rates for entry-level homes and rental units continue to climb, mostly out of the reach of those on fixed incomes or social assistance.
City staff has been working on a strategy that would address this ongoing and indeed worsening situation, the first phase of which was outlined by Trudel on Monday night.
Part of the proposed plan places an emphasis on ensuring that when land is available for development, it be considered for affordable housing first whenever possible to do so.
Most often affordable housing units are being built by non-profit groups, such as the CMHC’s Massey Manor project. But the big problem for such groups is the high cost of real estate, which becomes a barrier to getting such building projects up and running. An affordable housing first strategy could help encourage city administration to plan for sensible locations for these kinds of units.
We believe that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s only a baby step.
As for private developments, Trudel says there are generally only two different forms of developers who deal in affordable housing.
“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.
But in her opinion, there are a limited number of developers who will continue to keep properties designated as affordable to those on lower incomes because such companies are 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,” she 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.”
Trudel’s presentation comes several weeks after the Sun’s multi-part series on affordable housing that addressed the issue in Brandon and in other Prairie cities, such as Regina and Saskatoon, that have been forced to handle their own growth issues.
In that series, J&G Homes president Jared Jacobson suggested that the most sensible solution to the city’s housing crunch would be for the province, the city and private developers to work together, or in some cases, for government to leave development to private interests if it can be done cheaper. In particular, Jacobson singled out Manitoba Housing’s Stickney Avenue building.
“The average housing cost in Brandon when it was built was around $183,000,” Jacobson told the Sun. “Now we have low-income families living in affordable units that cost taxpayers more than $270,000. Does this make sense?”
He also suggested a better way to relieve housing demand would be to cut red tape and improve relations between government and the private sector.
To our minds, there will be no one solution to Brandon’s ongoing “affordable” housing crunch. While market forces will continue to dictate housing prices in this city — as they should — there has to be a well-developed strategy from our city planners that will provide a relief valve for the increasing housing pressure Brandon faces.
In anticipation of that, we look forward to seeing what Trudel and her team bring to the table.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 19, 2012