In the wake of the provincial government’s announcement of legislative changes to increase affordable housing options in Manitoba this week, we have a few comments.
Earlier this week, the Sun reported that, thanks to legislative amendments to the Planning Act and the City of Winnipeg Charter that were officially announced on Nov. 26, Brandon would now have the authority to encourage or require new residential developments to include homes that are affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Current legislation does not give municipalities explicit authority to require developers to include affordable housing in new developments.
The province maintains these changes came about through consultations with “Manitoba Housing and Community Development, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, the City of Winnipeg, the City of Brandon and community non-profit and affordable housing groups.”
Just a week earlier, a majority of Brandon’s council decided to ignore an impassioned plea from the mayor to consider two affordable housing proposals and instead voted to approve the sale of the former Brandon Police Service station land and building to Vionell Holdings.
Had these new legislative changes been in place and enacted by the city, not only would the outcome of the council vote likely be different, but the substance of the submissions would no doubt have been significantly altered.
• The timing of the provincial announcement, and the fact that Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was mentioned in the official release, may be coincidental, but it is worthy of note. Is this Premier Greg Selinger’s way of showing the mayor a little support?
Brandon’s economic development officer, Sandy Trudel, said this week that the province’s legislation will form an “important part of the tool kit” for the city — we assume she is referring to the affordable housing strategy that she and her department are attempting to complete by the end of the year. Part of the plan, she said, is to create integrated neighbourhoods that have a diverse income level within them. To do this, the city would 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.
• This strikes us as a rather utopian ideal — attempting to create social change on the backs of those who build new housing developments. It’s much the same problem with the belief that large businesses such as Maple Leaf should build housing for its required workforce. Businesses and developers may simply look elsewhere to avoid incurring extra costs.
The city has also decided to limit eligibility for affordable housing to those families with an income that does not exceed $65,000. If we use the provincial government’s definition — affordable housing should not cost more than 30 per cent of before tax household income — that means that affordable housing in this city would have an upper spending limit of $19,500 per year, or about $1,625 per month.
• With house rentals still in the $900 to $1,200 range and single- and double-room apartments seemingly available for rent between $650 and $1,000, we find the city’s upper limit to be a tad high. We think those who fall within the lowest income percentile should perhaps be the priority.
We respect the fact that the city is attempting to find answers to Brandon’s ongoing housing crunch and we look forward to reading Trudel’s final report. This is an ongoing problem that requires considerable debate and innovation.
• One little quibble though: We’re not sure that diverting the attention of the city’s hard-working economic development officer away from her normal duties — attracting new business and high-paying, high-quality jobs to this community — represents the best use of her time.