County approves implementation on Affordable Housing Strategy

By Cecilia Nasmith

Northumberland County council passed a motion at its March meeting to direct staff to begin implementing certain provisions of the Affordable Housing Strategy that was presented by Christine Pacini of SHS Consulting and Community and Social Services Department housing services manager Rebecca Carman.

The presentation focused on goals and actions that form the basis of the strategy, as well as housing targets.

Over the course of 16 different engagement opportunities (from surveys to in-person sessions), Pacini said, six gaps were identified – the need for affordable rental options for low-income householders, the need for more construction expressly built for the purpose of offering rental units, the need for support services and supportive housing to help those with special needs live independently, the need for accessible housing and a broader range of housing options for those who are aging or living with disabilities, a more diverse housing supply to accommodate smaller households, and the need to ensure the existing housing stock is in good conditions.

Pacini discussed the four over-all goals identified and what actions might be taken to implement them.

Increase the supply of rental housing that is affordable to those with low and moderate incomes. Among the 23 actions suggested were incentives to public not-for-profit and private sectors to build rental units, considering the feasibility of county-funded housing allowances to the chronically homeless (over and above provincial subsidies), the development of a Housing Master Plan and financing strategy to identify where and how affordable housing will be built, consider the feasibility of forgivable loans for home owners who add a secondary suite and commit to renting it for 20 years, and working with school boards in the hopes of having them sell surplus land and facilities at below-market value for affordable housing, as well as a number of suggested collaborations and partnerships that might help meet this goal.

Expand the supply of housing with supports and support services in appropriate locations. Among the eight actions suggested were changes to municipalities' Official Plans and zoning bylaws, policies and regulations. As well, she suggested it would be wise to continue to support the HomeShare Program originated by Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre to match up young women in need of housing with older women who have space to spare.

“That's a great example of a program that seems to be working very well,” Pacini stated.

Encourage and support the development of a diverse housing stock, including accessible housing options, smaller units and options to facilitate aging in place. Among the nine actions suggested were for member municipalities to revisit their current targets for medium- and high-density housing to ensure it's still relevant to current and emerging demographics, and to direct municipalities to review regulations related to secondary suites and accessory dwellings.

Ensure all housing stock is well maintained and in good condition. Among the four actions suggested was to explore the feasibility of expanding the Northumberland Renovates program to provide forgivable loans to owners and landlords for renovations that improve safety, accessibility and energy efficiency.

Pacini discussed 10-year targets, which call for 90 of 360 unites created each year be affordable units. Of these 90 affordable units, she called for 65 to be affordable to households with low incomes, 25 to be affordable to households with moderate incomes and 37 to be accessible or supportive units for those with physical or cognitive disabilities or mental-health issues.

Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said he hoped for co-operation from school boards disposing of surplus buildings and lands.

“School boards come out of tax dollars – effectively, it feels like double-dipping when the community doesn't get first crack at a reasonable cost when a school becomes redundant,” Sanderson said.

“If the priority of the provincial government is housing, I don't see how the school system can be independent of that. I think, with collaboration and some effort, we will get the ear of the government on that one.”