New Brunswick

Housing strategy gets committee's support, but not everyone sold on creation of 'housing entity'

Members of the City of Fredericton's economic vitality committee voted to forward an affordable housing strategy on to council, but not all committee members appeared fully on board with the idea of the city creating a housing entity.

Affordable Housing Strategy calls on city to create or fund 'mission-driven housing entity'

A strategy, put together by consultants Turner Drake and Partners Ltd., recommends the city create a 'mission-driven housing entity' with the aim of creating more affordable units in the city, either as an arm within city hall, or a separate organization funded by the municipality. (City of Fredericton)

Fredericton is a step closer to adopting an affordable housing strategy, but not all councillors are fully on board with one of its more radical recommendations.

The city's economic vitality committee voted in favour Tuesday of forwarding a final version of the Affordable Housing Strategy to council for approval.

The committee also voted to direct council to put together a one-year implementation plan for it.

But at least one councillor expressed doubt about adopting the strategy's recommendation for the creation of a "housing entity."

"We've got people in the city that are barely making it by because of the new … property values that we have," said Coun. Bruce Grandy, a member of the committee.

"So, you know, we have to look at that before we would say we're going to spend $25 a year of your tax dollars in social housing, before we create an entity. So I think what I'm getting to is there are a lot of baby steps to go before we make that final decision."

Coun. Bruce Grandy, a member of the economic vitality committee, said he isn't sure whether the city should establish a mission-driven housing entity. (CBC)

Grandy was referring to one of the 13 recommendations laid out in the strategy, which the city first released online in early May.

Put together by consultants with Turner Drake and Partners Ltd., it recommends the city create or fund a "mission-driven housing entity" with the aim of creating more affordable units in the city.

The strategy says the entity could either be an arm within city hall, or a separate organization funded by the municipality. 

Grandy also warned against putting in place "blanket" policies for neighbourhoods in the city, noting "we have to respect land owners too."

The strategy also recommends amending bylaws to enable more and faster housing, and suggests allowing builders to create two dwelling units in any part of the city, and anywhere from four to six-unit buildings in the urban core, without special approvals from city hall.

Response to community's need

Turner Drake put the strategy together using information the city received from its housing needs assessment done last fall, which found that Fredericton needed about 2,500 affordable housing units, 1,500 subsidized units and at least 50 emergency shelter spaces.

Following the release of the first draft of the strategy, the city invited the public to offer feedback.

Neil Lovitt with Turner Drake and Partners spoke at Tuesday's meeting and said the draft affordable housing strategy was downloaded about 100 times, and about 70 people or organizations filled out a survey about it.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Coun. Jason Lejeune, the committee's chair, was reluctant to share his thoughts on the creation of a housing entity.

"I don't know if I have a position on that yet," he said.

"I think that in a case like that, it's going to be really important to engage with existing builders out there. And the other thing, too, is we haven't really looked at any kind of business case around what that might look like. It's very, very loose at this stage."

Coun. Jason LeJeune, chair of the economic vitality committee, said some of the first recommendations to be implemented will likely be around land use policy. (CBC News)

Lejeune said the current version of the strategy is largely the same as the earlier version, except some of the objectives have been better defined.

In terms of what can be expected in the near term, Lejeune said councillors will be able to make decisions around land-use policy, and could choose to set aside money in its 2023 budget for any of the recommendations.

"An implementation plan, when you're getting into uncharted territory, really needs to be looked at by subject matter experts who are experts in their field and figure out what's feasible," he said, adding that no defined timelines have been proposed yet.

An important first step

Housing has become an important issue in Fredericton, and the adoption of an affordable housing strategy is a milestone for the city, said Ken Forrest, the city's director of planning and development.

"I think council should feel quite proud of the fact that this is an important first step for Fredericton in trying to find a way to address the affordable housing challenges that we have," he said.

"But I think the strategy very carefully tries to avoid having the city moving in and doing things that are naturally or, you know, appropriately, the responsibility of the federal and provincial government."

Forrest said the strategy also recognizes the city has traditionally depended on the free market to build housing, but that more "community housing options" are needed to fill in the gaps.

He said to do that, the city will have to partner with community organizations, and better advocate to the provincial and federal governments for financial help with the creation of more housing.

"So we need to be active in that area and we need to be, you know, aggressive in trying to make sure that Fredericton's … needs are reflected in those, in those [housing] programs."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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