Bruce County looks at starting another affordable housing project

·3 min read

BRUCE COUNTY – Edward Henley, director of corporate services, had a proposal for council during the April 1 meeting of the corporate services committee.

The 2020 unaudited financial statement indicates a surplus of $2.9 million, which would normally be transferred to reserves. Henley suggested doing “something bold” with the surplus, considering the large amount.

He proposed that $1,750,000 be transferred to the affordable housing program for the creation of new units. With the housing project in Kincardine nearing completion and other municipalities expressing interest in a similar project, and considering the length of time it took to get the Kincardine project going, this would be a good place for the funds, he said.

A new general building reserve would be created with $250,000, to be used as a centralized source of funds for building construction, expansion and/or renovation.

The winter control reserve would get $294,000 – the exact amount shown as a surplus in winter control spending for the first four months of 2020. The past couple of winters were relatively calm, but it’s inevitable there will be a harsh winter with a need for additional funds.

The new project manager position would be allocated $100,000, with the remainder of the funds transferred to the tax stabilization reserve as per the existing policy. The position starts in May 2021 and ongoing funding will be offset by reductions in the cost to hire external project managers for construction projects. The position will be included in the 2022 and 2023 budgets and reviewed for subsequent years.

Henley told members of the corporate services committee there are a number of reasons for the large surplus including additional funding in long-term care, operational spending that did not proceed and temporary vacancies in positions across the county. The pandemic resulted in the closure of the museum and libraries, resulting in surpluses in those departments, and there was a pandemic-related savings in training and travel countywide.

Kincardine project

The Kincardine housing project received $200,000 from reserves towards the total $13 million cost. Grants are estimated at $2,500,000 and some surplus housing units were sold.

“Interest rates are at record lows and now is a good time to fund these types of projects,” said Henley in his report. “If they are built later, then the cost will be higher due to construction price increases and the interest rates will also be higher, both resulting in higher overall costs.”

Allocating $1,750,000 in seed funding for affordable housing would get another project going.

County Coun. Luke Charbonneau, mayor of Saugeen Shores, said he liked the concept of an affordable housing project, and said if his municipality were chosen as the site, the municipality could come up with the land for the project.

County Coun. Chris Peabody, mayor of Brockton, said, “It’s a very bold vision.” He asked about the criteria for choosing the community for the project.

This was an important issue for County Coun. Milt McIver, mayor of Northern Bruce Peninsula. He expressed concern that smaller municipalities will never get to the front of the line for an affordable housing project.

“We have needs, too,” he said.

At present, Saugeen Shores tops the needs list, with Brockton second.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times