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Housing plan may boost downtown

Peterborough Examiner - January 22, 2002
by Joelle Kovach


Debate was lively last night at City Hall over whether two strategies in a 10-point municipal plan to boost affordable housing would line the pockets of downtown landlords more than provide low-rent apartments.

In the end, councillors voted to adopt all 10 strategies, but not before Coun. Bob Hall made his point.

Hall wanted to hold a separate debate over the strategy that would have the city setting aside money to lend out to developers who want to convert second- and third-floor spaces above downtown businesses into Peterborough apartments. Council could put $100,000 aside every year for five years, starting in 2002.

He also wanted councillors to have a separate debate over whether to give tax breaks for properties that are being converted into housing.

Hall said he thought that overall, the plan to boost affordable housing is "noble and just", but that he did not think these two strategies belonged in a plan to boost affordable housing.

Other strategies include issuing loans, grants and other bonuses for new affordable housing projects and setting aside money to pay the development charges for new affordable housing throughout the city.

Hall stressed that apartments above downtown businesses, for instance, would not necessarily be low-rent ones.

"We're tight for money," he said, adding that if people are taxed out of their own homes, the waiting lists for affordable housing grows."

Coun. John Pritchard also took issue with the same strategies, saying he would be more comfortable with them if the wording specified that loans for downtown apartments would be for affordable apartments only. Furthermore, he wanted councillors to consider giving tax breaks only to developers looking only to build low-rent apartments.

But Coun. Henry Clarke, the city's housing chairman, argued that "the vast majority" of downtown apartment will indeed be affordable because they will be small. "It will get people living downtown," he said.

Malcolm Hunt, the city's planning director, said the strategies "will do an awful lot to provide affordable housing." Perhaps there will be more expensive apartments created downtown, he said, but those are needed too. "It has a double benefit."

Mayor Sylvia Sutherland said she supported all the strategies because the ones Hall wanted to separate are the ones that get people living downtown. "The downtown belongs to all of us," she said.

These are the 10 strategies councillors finally voted to support. Some call for money over several years. But council supported the plan last night under the understanding that these items will be considered at budget time as the years progress.

Hall and Pritchard took issue with strategies number five and eight.

They are as follows:

  1. Setting aside the interest from the city's social housing reserve to help build new affordable housing for at least the next five years. The money would go to the Peterborough Affordable Housing Foundation, a new charity.

    The reserve now has about $1 million; the annual interest is about $35,000. That money usually goes into the city's general revenues pot.

    Council will also be asked to give the Foundation $25,000 a year for the next three years (beginning in 2002) to help it market itself and apply for government grants.

  2. Setting up a reserve fund especially to buy property on which to build affordable housing. It would mean putting away $75,000 a year, starting in 2002.

  3. Giving the proceeds from the sale of city lands to the fund to buy property on which to build affordable housing. It could be done for five years, starting in 2002.

  4. Issuing loans, grants and other bonuses for new affordable housing projects.

  5. Setting aside money to lend out to developers who want to convert second- and third-floor spaces above downtown businesses into apartments. Council could put $100,000 aside every year for five years, starting in 2002.

  6. Setting aside money to pay the development charges for new affordable housing throughout the city. Council could put $100,000 aside every year for five years, starting in 2002.

  7. Adopting a policy where fees (such as building permit fees) are waived for affordable housing projects. The program could run for five years.

  8. Giving tax breaks for properties that are being converted into housing. (Sometimes when owners convert empty buildings into apartments, for instance, they must pay more tax on the building once renovated and occupied than they did when it was empty. This could change that.)

  9. Changing some of the rules so that it becomes less expensive for property owners to convert their buildings into apartments. (For instance, the city expects the owner to supply one parking spot per apartment. For every parking spot missing, the city charges the owners $4,000 to supply on-street parking. Yet tenants in affordable housing tend to have fewer cars, the city has noted ? the new rules could mean only a nominal charge, instead of $4,000.)

  10. Giving a one-time grant of $200,000 to start converting the vacant Daniel Building on McDonnel Street into about 40 apartments.

    The building, which belongs to Sir Sandford Fleming College, is sitting empty. The college wants to give it to the city. The money would be used to start fixing it up and to apply for government grants. A private developer would take over the work, and an agency such as the Peterborough Community Housing Development Corporation (which renovates derelict buildings and rents them to needy tenants) could own and operate it for the city.


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