Town council addressing attainable housing issue in St. Marys

·3 min read

By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The issue of attainable housing has become a big focus for the Town of St. Marys, especially in recent months, and at last Tuesday's Town Council meeting, a presentation was given on the Town's direction for the future with regards to the issue.

Council members took in a presentation by Planner for the Town of St. Marys, Mark Stone, which focused on the implementation of the Town's attainable housing strategy, further discussion on the definition of attainable housing, and the next steps for the municipality.

The attainable housing strategy and the projects associated with it got started earlier this year but many projects were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some initiatives have marked achievements in this effort, with Stone focusing on the parking study conducted earlier this year. Stone noted that the Town-wide parking review was important in relation to attainable housing, highlighting the consideration of parking requirements in the downtown and in proximity to high-density developments. Stone also reported on the Community Improvement Plan, which he stated is considering "financial incentives to encourage small-scale conversions of existing vacant or underutilized space for rental housing." The update of the Plan also noted that loan programs are also being considered that would help reduce the up-front costs of developing attainable housing units provided those units are rented below average market cost. Also mentioned was the encouragement of creating secondary units in existing dwellings.

Stone shared the Provincial definition of attainable housing, which states that no more than 30 percent of a household's income, before taxes, should be required for housing. By analyzing approved alternate market rents (AMRs), Stone concluded that $1,350 to $1,500 fit the local definition for attainable housing. Stone also suggested that $330,000 was the approximate threshold for attainable housing as it related to ownership.

He then offered Council a list of next steps that the Town may pursue to help address this issue, which included:

- Investigate possibly divesting Southvale Park to create attainable housing units;

- Consider providing information on the benefits of and rules for creating secondary units;

- Explore the possibility of creating and maintaining a public database of housing availability and resources for residents and the development industry;

- Review possible exemptions or reduced development charge rates for attainable housing as part of the next Development Charges Background Study beginning in May 2021;

- Determine how to release Town's attainable housing targets;

- Set up a housing forum to discuss opportunities or constraints locally.

Stone's presentation also included four recommendations to Council. Firstly, Town staff recommended that the municipality continue to define attainable ownership based on Provincial affordability definitions. Secondly, the Town will require future development applicants to also submit a report showing the impact of the proposed development on the attainable housing supply in the community. The recommendations also include that the Town target attainable rental housing based on the $1,350 to $1,500 AMRs, and include an initial $50,000 in the 2021 draft budget for the housing strategy.

Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Marys Independent