On Tuesday, Nov. 26, the provincial government issued a press release, which appears to have led to the Sun’s front-page story of Nov. 28, “New Power To Address Affordable Housing Construction ‘Very Good’ For City: Mayor.”
It also formed the basis for the Sun’s editorial on Nov. 30. Mayor Shari Decter Hirst is quoted in the government press release, as follows: “We are looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity and strongly encourage other municipalities dealing with affordable housing challenges to do the same.”
Because of city council’s efforts to work as a team for the past two years, it is with some reluctance that I take public issue with Mayor Decter Hirst’s participation in the preparation of a provincial government press release and, more importantly, her clear statement of our city’s support for a specific set of policies which have not been formally raised, debated or decided upon at city council. There are 11 votes around the council table, not just one.
The provincial legislation (Bill 7) would allow municipalities “to either take a mandatory or incentive-based approach to requiring affordable housing.” In addition, the bill, if enacted, would allow “provisions on development agreements between the municipality and the developer that would intend on protecting the ongoing affordability of the housing units.”
I believe a significant number of councillors — myself included — would not support forcing developers to build low-income properties or to hold rents at artificially low levels at their own expense, which the provincial legislation would allow municipalities to do. All councillors want more “affordable housing” in Brandon, but such housing should be the result of co-operative, multi-party approaches rather than top-down city council demands with no promise of public money attached. When the co-operative approach has been used, it has resulted in successes across Canada, including Brandon.
Anti-business edicts will not work; worse, they will drive business away from our community and other communities across Manitoba.
Should private businesses be required by government to subsidize their customers? That is not the way our country has been built and measures like those contained in Bill 7 would certainly be a poor new beginning to the way we do business.
It would be unfair of me if I did not add that I, for one, welcome, at long last, the requirement in Bill 7 that a definition of “affordable housing” be established, “based on local context and needs.” This is what has been missing in the public debate all along. Such a definition, along with demographic and economic information about the level of need for this type of housing in Brandon, are essential to good decision-making for all parties involved. A low vacancy rate is one indicator, but much more information is needed.
Granted, Bill 7 is essentially enabling legislation but, given the mayor’s unilateral statement that the City of Brandon intends to use its provisions, it now becomes necessary for councillors like me to speak up and advocate for a less dictatorial, more multilateral approach — the kind that works and produces housing for those who need it.
James C. MCCrae, councillor
Meadows, Ward 5