Southgate shuts down its housing committee to set it free

Southgate Council has endorsed a recommendation by staff to disband the township affordable-attainable housing committee.

Last Wednesday’s staff report said that committee members have been becoming frustrated by the limits of the committee process.

Deputy Mayor Barbara Dobreen thanked council members for their passion and dedication to the cause.

Coun. Jason Rice said he still hadn’t found anyone who could define “affordable” to his satisfaction. He endorsed the staff’s request to close the committee.

A related initiative to form a local Housing Corporation with three other lower-tier municipalities, proposed by the former CAO during the last term of council, is also to be dropped. Not all municipalities had responded, the report said.

“Most initiatives and actionable items fall outside the committee’s mandate,” the report said, citing examples such as committee members not being able to meet with developers directly or to apply for funding.

Committees have an advisory role while council has decision-making power. They can bring recommendations forward to council which then make decisions and direct staff.

It suggested that members could continue to work on the issue from a “citizen perspective,” not hampered by rules governing the committee.

The view expressed in the staff report was that the committee had shifted its attention to the social housing side of affordable housing which it said was outside the Township’s jurisdiction, being the responsibility of the upper tier, and outside its resources – financial and personnel.

The staff proposal to disband the committee was a “shock” to Coun. Martin Shipston, the committee chair, when he first heard it, he said.

But on reflection, he thought that members would be freer to move forward without the constraints of procedure.

And when he compared the cost of an affordable housing build to the annual budget of Southgate, Coun. Shipston said he could see the financial challenge.

Coun. Joan John, the second council member on the committee, also commended its work.

Other members were vice-chair Gerry McNalty, Carolynn Dyer, Nola Marion, Muriel Scott and Jordan DeJong.

In its last meeting, covered in the paper, the committee had heard a presentation from InDwell, an organization which works with municipalities on housing projects, including mixed housing. Their work includes developing projects that meet the need for employers to have affordable housing in the community for their workers, he said.

Asked for a comment about the decision, Mr. McNalty said simply, “I’m disappointed.”

He noted that the reserving of land for possible lower-priced housing builds and housing information package “will live beyond the committee.”

Several councillors noted that housing problems are huge, requiring efforts beyond the local power to address.

The report assured council that staff would work with developers, especially in the early stages of planning to present the desire for affordable and attainable housing.

“The reality of the situation is – we cannot mandate what the developer can do with their development – but we can put policies and procedures in place to help encourage certain initiatives,” the report said.

It gave the example of using development agreements that address affordability.

Staff will work toward having one or two projects “shovel ready” if a willing developer and/or funding should come, the report said.

There were two pieces of land reserved for possible projects after discussion by the committee and advice from the planner, but they are not yet zoned for residential.

The committee developed media pieces to promote secondary units, and to provide some basic facts about the housing challenges locally, which the municipality will still release.

The report said that Southgate staff have joined an “Affordable Housing Community of Practice”, which is a group of county and lower-tier staff.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald