Kitchener-Waterloo

Ontario should help municipalities develop brownfields to create affordable housing, Green leader says

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner says he'd like to see the province fund brownfield redevelopment as a way to address the lack of affordable housing in many municipalities.

Schreiner calls for funding to 'provide support for municipalities and for responsible developers'

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner says he'd like to see the Progressive Conservatives reinstate a brownfield redevelopment fund to help municipalities and developers clean up and build on contaminated lands. (Flickr)

The province could help municipalities get more affordable housing by funding projects that clean up former industrial and commercial lands, says Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner.

The lands, also called brownfields, are either not currently in use or have very little use, and the land beneath the buildings may be contaminated.

"We have a significant number of brownfield sites within urban boundaries across Ontario," Schreiner said, noting the cost to redevelop the sites can be high because the ground has to be cleaned of toxins or contaminants before a new building can go up.

At one point, the province had a brownfield redevelopment fund, but Schreiner said that fund was cancelled under the previous Liberal government.

"I would like to see the current government, as part of their housing review, re-instate the brownfield redevelopment fund, provide support for municipalities and for responsible developers to redevelop brownfield sites in a safe, sustainable way and in a way that addresses the lack of affordable housing supply," he said.

Sites sit empty

Schreiner is the MPP in Guelph, which has a large brownfield site near the downtown: the former home of the International Malleable Iron Company (IMICo). It was a foundry, a factory that produces metal casings, from 1912 to 1989.

The city has owned the property since 1997. Buildings, contaminated and toxic soil as well as contaminated concrete were removed from the site in 1999.

There is currently a memorandum of understanding in place with Habitat for Humanity and developer ARQi R&D to turn the brownfield "into something that the community both wants and needs and that we can all get excited about," the city's website says.

The possible uses listed include medium-density residential, mixed residential with commercial or community use such as a a park or community centre.

But today, the site remains empty, and the city continues its environmental monitoring of the land.

Guelph offers incentives to developers who are willing to remediate the sites, which can include grants and tax assistance.

The Region of Waterloo, as well as the cities and Woolwich township, also offer incentives depending on where a developer wants to build.

Schreiner says when talking to city staff in Guelph, brownfields come up "over and over again as a real bottleneck to affordable housing supply."

The land at 200 Beverley Street in Guelph is the site of the former International Malleable Iron Company (IMICo). The city has owned the brownfield property since 1997 and would like to put residential units on the land. (Google Maps)

'Build more housing more quickly'

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark would not say whether the Progressive Conservative government is considering restoring funding for brownfield redevelopment.

Instead, he said they are looking at making paperwork for developments easier for municipalities.

"I've committed to the municipal sector that we want to build more housing more quickly, so I want to streamline the development proposal times," he said.

"If I'm going to challenge them to try and streamline and be responsive to some of their needs, like some of the brownfield areas, which we've heard are a concern to some municipalities, we want to make sure that we also free up time so that they're able to continue to deliver those vital public services that people expect from their municipal government."

Rod Regier says improved paperwork would make a big difference. Regier is the commissioner of planning, development and legislative services with the Region of Waterloo.

"The minister has really put his finger on one area that is definitely worth a close look. These sites are extremely complex. They're technically challenging, and the administrative processes associated with them are pretty significant," he said.

He said the administrative process for a brownfield development can take years.

Accelerating the process would be important for municipalities, he said.

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