A majority of Kitchener councillors took a tentative baby step toward an incentive program earlier this week that could encourage increased construction of affordable housing.
But judging by the hand-wringing and tight votes at a Community Services committee meeting, certain councillors who supported making affordable housing a top council priority earlier this year, are now hesitating about a series of development incentives tried with success in other Ontario municipalities.
Out of seven possible incentives suggested by staff, council approved four and, at the same time, pledged to work closely with regional government in order to generate more low-income shelter.
Approved priority incentives for developers willing to build affordable homes include:
- Property tax exemptions or grants;
- Reduced parking requirements for developments that include low-income housing;
- Density bonuses (extra units) for developers willing to include affordable homes.
Secondary priority incentive:
- Waiving of planning application fees that are part of development process.
- Reduction of parkland dedication in return for more low-income housing;
- Having the city sell off surplus municipal lands at below market rates to be used to develop affordable homes;
- Reduction, deferral or exemption of planning application and development fees;
I agreed with the reduced-parkland decision because a greater need exists for community parks when affordable-housing is created. But I supported sale of surplus municipal land and exemption of fees.
I also wholeheartedly favour other methods of rewarding those willing to build affordable housing because Waterloo Region currently has about 10,000 children, adults and seniors languishing on a waiting list for low-income housing.
I’m also influenced by the fact that, in our city and region, 40 per cent of renters are paying more than 30 per cent of income for rent, the average wait for an affordable, one-bedroom unit is eight years and there are 3,219 people currently using local emergency shelters.
Such an appalling housing demand is an absolute social disgrace in our wealthy city, region, province and country. And what makes this situation worse is that we have known for decades that, by providing decent shelter, we can save multiple tax dollars currently wasted on police, health, justice and other services that result from a depressing combination of poverty and homelessness.
Some councillors insist affordable housing is entirely a regional issue.
To which I reply that Kitchener residents sick of increasing property taxes couldn’t care less if those tax bills come from the city or region.
For that reason, I’m unwilling to bury my head in the jurisdictional sandbox and leave the low-income housing issue to the Region. I’m convinced housing is a priority problem that should be a shared responsibility of city and regional councils, the province and our new federal government. Kitchener should also partner with the Region because lower-tier municipalities retain control of density and are the bodies best positioned to sponsor incentive programs.
I hope councillors confirm their support for incentives when the subject resurfaces for final approval at the Nov 16 council meeting.