Cobourg gets solidly behind rental-housing projects

By Cecilia Nasmith

The Town of Cobourg is putting its money where its mouth is, in the form of thousands of dollars worth of support for two projects that will add rental units (both market value and affordable) to the community's housing stock.

The vote was made at this week's committee-of-the-whole meeting in support of the Town of Cobourg Affordable Housing Financial Support Policy and Strategy identified as part of the town's strategic plan – even though, as Mayor John Henderson pointed out, that plan is still out there for public input and comment.

The not-for-profit Trinity Housing Corporation has previously made presentations on behalf of its 37-unit building at 25 James St. (of which 13 units will be affordable). This week council heard from a representative of the Balder Corporation and Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre executive director Nancy Johnston about the 65-unit Cobourg Accessible Energy Efficient Downtown Rentals project at 315-325 University Ave. W., featuring 13 affordable units.

This is a for-profit venture that has received support from the Federal government for a private-public venture.

“There hasn't been any dedicated rental housing built since the '70s – it's simply not financially feasible for the private sector,” the Balder spokesman said.

“The Federal government has found the old ways of housing have not worked, and they want to include more sectors in the housing issues we are dealing with.”

“There is no easy answer or solution to addressing homelessness and housing challenges within Northumberland County,” Johnston said. 
“At Cornerstone, we see the most vulnerable individuals, and the current lack of affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges our organization and our clients face – because of the low turnover in our shelter, we are having to turn people away.”

The arrangement that gives Cornerstone clients first right of refusal on these affordable units could have a very positive ripple effect, Johnston added.

As co-ordinator of planning and development services, Councillor Nicole Beatty made the motion which supported the Balder project with a streamlined approvals process, deferment of development charges for 10 years and a letter of support from the town with regard to its CMHC financial application indicating an intention to consider their proposal for financial assistance.

For the Trinity project, council offered a streamlined development approvals process, a development-charges grant of 50% or $111,360, deferral of the balance of development charges in the amount of $111,360 for five years, a grant equal to 100% of the increase in the town portion of property taxes for 10 years (with an estimated total net present value of $179,500), assistance in securing a similar concession from Northumberland County and the guarantee of a loan for $330,000.

Beatty's motion further called for town staff to work collaboratively with the County of Northumberland to implement a final draft incentives policy for affordable housing and implement further policies on its own.

Council authorized preparation of a town-wide Affordable Housing Community Improvement Plan at an estimated cost of $65,000, and moved to direct staff to amend the Building Fees Bylaw, Parkland Dedication Bylaw and the Tariff of Planning Fees Bylaw to accommodate new non-profit affordable housing projects at an estimated cost of $5,000. Staff will also engage legal counsel (at an estimated $5,000 cost) to provide a comprehensive review of the options set out and a detailed review of applicable legislation in time for the May 13 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

When Beatty called the vote and her lengthy motion passed unanimously, she announced, “with pride and gratitude, it is carried.”

The move earned applause from the gallery and kudos from more than one source.

“I felt council made a bold move to make housing one of the key components of our strategic plan,” Henderson said.

“This means every member before me listened and listened and listened during the campaign.”

Former Cobourg councillor Lloyd Williams (a Trinity volunteer) said it had been 16 years since he'd occupied one of those seats.

“I commend you for the way you have dealt with a number of issues this evening,” Williams said.

“Speaking on behalf of Trinity Place, congratulations to the citizens of Cobourg for placing each of you in your seats.”

The sentiment was echoed by fellow Trinity volunteer Edgar Carman.

“Now we can move forward to get the project going, and hopefully the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place as well in a timely fashion so we can maybe get shovels in the ground by this fall,” Carman said.