Midland affordable housing committee comes up empty on project bids

·4 min read

Council's Task Force on Affordable Housing is perplexed by the lack of bids to its request for proposals (RFP) for an affordable housing project in town.

"We had the RFP out to market for architectural services," said Rob Elliott, executive director of community & development services, at a recent meeting. "Regrettably, we did not get any responses to that RFP."

He added that 12 bidders had picked up the information packages and as next steps, the staff can reach out to a select few of to better understand what kept them from bidding.

"That would give us an opportunity to engage individual consultants we might think be appropriate to do this work on our behalf," said Elliott.

With that out of the way, the committee went on to discuss how its presentation to council had been received, since there weren't a lot of questions asked of the presenters.

Chair Gord McKay asked Mayor Stewart Strathearn if he could share his thoughts on the feelings around the council table.

"My sense is that the lack of questions spoke to the receptiveness of council and to the fulsomeness of the report," said Strathearn. "Overall, I think if there had been something negative about it, we would have likely heard that."

McKay asked what Strathearn thought would be the fate of their monetary request.

"We put some numbers on the table, we asked for $50,000 to do various studies on the two properties, where does that stand?" asked McKay.

Strathearn said the town's chief administrative officer has helped identify some funding options.

"Those will be put on the table at budget time," said Strathearn, without sharing any specifics. "Nobody dropped away in a dead faint, so that's good. It's going to be quite a conversation around budget. We do have options with respect to what we fund the request from the committee. Everybody is approaching it with an open mind."

McKay then steered the conversation over to next steps for the committee, for which Strathearn had a question.

"The businesses case should also pinpoint its target constituency," he said. "I think that should happen sooner than later on this project."

Dan Labrecque, consultant for the group, agreed.

"That's going to determine the build-form," he said. "We'll need, as a committee, to get our head around and pick that constituency. Once you have that, it's easy math after that. If you want to keep the cost down without getting subsidies, then you're going to be looking at small units."

Labrecque said he understood the need for consulting the community at-large, but had some concerns around that.

"The downside of that is you go out to the community --- you've excluded them from the conversation about what we're building --- the input from the community might be that we want three-bedroom family units," he said.

"Now you're spending $300,000 - $400,000 a unit. I'll tell you right now that's not going to be affordable in the target zone unless we get significant grant funding to bring that cost of the mortgage down."

McKay said the community will have to be involved in the process in the next few months.

"We can't do this behind closed doors and surprise everyone in June," he said, presenting an additional source of information for determining the need. "Part of the research is that we've got a number of housing agencies that deal with the breadth of this community through many different lenses.

"Virtually every one of them could give you a prescription as to what they will need in terms of unit size. That channel is very approachable and will give you the information in a short period of time."

McKay asked Elliott about how the town's official plan was being updated to accommodate affordable housing options in it.

"We do have a new official plan (OP)," said Elliott. "It's been appealed to the local planning appeal tribunal. We're working through that appeal so it should come into force at some point this year.

"Having said that," he added, "the zoning bylaw needs to be brought into conformity with the new legislation and official plan in the next two years. We have built funds into this budget for council to bring in a consultant upon the OP being implemented. Looking at different mixes of housing and built forms. That's something that will be first and foremost direction to consultants."

The committee will meet again on Feb. 16. Past meetings can be viewed on the town's YouTube channnel.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com