Wanted: Affordable, Age-Friendly Housing

Developers, planners, politicians, and other stakeholders convene to discuss affordable housing needs in Thorold. PHOTO LIDDYCOAT

Can councillors, planning staff and developers collaborate to build affordable, age-friendly housing in Thorold?

That was the goal as the three groups met with regional staff and Thorold municipal non-profit housing board members last week to discuss possibilities.

“We’re here to hear from the development community,” said Coun. Fred Neale, chair of Thorold’s age-friendly housing sub-committee. “We’re here to maybe change our bylaws and policies to help you progress, and we’re looking forward to building more housing options in Thorold.”

Age-friendly housing is a need that’s been identified, said Coun. Terry Ugulini.

“We do a good job in Thorold of providing student housing because we’re so close to Brock. We need to look at different options for seniors.”

Jean D’Amelio Swyer, chair of Thorold’s age-friendly committee, presented statistics showing that 138 out of 150 respondents disagree that wait times for senior housing are reasonable.

Long-time Thorold resident John Henderson said some seniors have been forced to leave Thorold due to lack of proper housing.

“I may have to move from my house down the road. I grew up in Thorold and I would like to stay in Thorold and I’m concerned I may not be able to. From my perspective, I’d like to be near things so I can stay here.”

Mark Basciano, president of Mountainview Homes, urged councillors to “See what other municipalities are doing. If they can do it in places like Port Dover, surely we can do it in the city of Thorold, so Mr. Henderson doesn’t get displaced. With seniors, a large part of the market is not local buyers anymore. Purchasers of all ages are coming from out of the area and they look at the region as one place to be, not 12 municipalities, so Thorold is competing with the outside market. Seniors are living longer and have to stretch their income, so affordability is huge. Municipalities have to start listening more or plugging into the industry. I would argue that we know the market better than you.”

According to Basciano, “Thorold’s planning department compared to others is a pleasure to deal with.” But he discouraged allowing excessive input.

“Everybody wants to play in the design process. It can largely impact many things like parking and number of units. You have to govern the planning staff that this isn’t an exercise in design. That’s problematic with the industry trying to bring alternatives and price points.”

“You can never satisfy everyone,” said Mervin Croghan of HighRiver Developments.
“Make a decision. That guy who stands up and says, ‘I don’t want this house because there’s a shadow over here’ is nonsense.”

Ugulini said public meetings are required under the Planning Act; that “making an oral or written submission is legislated and part of the process. We’re trying to give you feedback on what we hear from residents who have had to move from Thorold.”

Mike Skrtich, developer of several Thorold student residences, is unhappy his Ormond Street project “had to be reduced from 18 to 12 (units) because the city needed more parking.”

Current bylaws require 1.5 parking spots for each unit; other cities require only one parking spot, he stated.

Ugulini said public meetings are required under the Planning Act; that “making an oral or written submission is legislated and part of the process. We’re trying to give you feedback on what we hear from residents who have had to move from Thorold.”

Mike Skrtich, developer of several Thorold student residences, is unhappy his Ormond Street project “had to be reduced from 18 to 12 (units) because the city needed more parking.”

Current bylaws require 1.5 parking spots for each unit; other cities require only one parking spot, he stated.

Paul Dedivitiis, another Thorold student residence developer, said, “The fees are climbing and climbing so to get affordable housing—I would love to—but by the time you even get the shovel in the ground it’s too expensive for the developer to break even. You can’t offer affordable housing when you’re spending three years in planning and your fees are atrocious.”

He added that delays like “having to wait eight months to change a window are costly.”

Another problem is “rapidly eroding land supply,” said Basciano. “We need some push-back on the province about releasing some land supply. I’m not talking about cutting all the trees down. What we need at the staff level, we need to get them to understand. Yes, be environmentally-sensitive and follow rules but there are pieces that absolutely should be developable. Land in some places has gone from $200 an acre to $700 an acre in three years in Niagara. It can only be addressed from the approving authorities. The region has the power to make a difference.”

Basciano has had “More applications than ever for rentals,” meaning the market is heading that way.

“I think rentals will address some of the shortfall and demand that isn’t here. What is out there is very low quality. People want new options.”

Karen Blackley, private real estate broker and vice president of Thorold’s municipal non-profit housing corporation, agreed.

“I think there’s a lost demographic” for people ranging from age 40 to 55 “who can’t afford to buy,” as well as singles, seniors, and two-income families who want other options, she said.

“Affordable housing can mean many things. You do need a developer with somewhat of a conscience because the money doesn’t flow like in other situations. There’s a huge opportunity to partner with us and work our way around the bureaucrats. There are non-profits and co-ops all through the region and I think they’d welcome any help or input.”

Affordability can be solved by continued construction, said Adrienne Jugley, Commissioner for the Region’s Community Services. “Build, build, build. Just getting stock in the market impacts affordability.”

Urging developers to “watch the CMHC website for updates,” new federal and provincial funding may help offset costs of building affordable housing, Jugley added.

“If you add 80 units and five are affordable, we’re open to looking at everything that comes across the table,” said Regional Coun. Henry D’Angela.

“We all want to build senior housing,” said Croghan. “We want to build affordable housing, not just senior housing, and we have to make money to do that as developers because it costs us a lot of money. The developer over the years has this horrible image that we want to gouge. We can’t gouge anymore. There’s an affordable issue for seniors. We will find a solution and present it to council. Let’s work together and not be so rigid. We want to build housing in Thorold. It’s a nice community, great people; great lifestyle. We have bought properties that have taken over a year now to get a permit. Why not cut the nonsense? I’m not going to fight those battles with the politicians. Make it easier for developers to get going.”

“Our company builds a lot of age-friendly products,” said Gerry Rinaldi of Rinaldi Homes, “but we haven’t looked into a lot of affordable housing so we’d like some information.”

D’Angela said Niagara Region’s housing staff can provide information, and that municipalities need to waive development fees and permit fees and issue tax reductions. “The city has to have the same policies as the Region. We’re losing business.”

Neale said for years council has had difficulty “getting the province to change the zoning “in the corridor south of Hwy. 20. “We asked to take some of the land on the north side of the highway out of the greenbelt but they won’t. All this land is fallow and not being utilized.”

He asked how the city of Thorold could “tap into projects like the Hotel Dieu” rehabilitation, headed by Basciano.

“It’s your process,” replied the developer. “Thorold has as much to offer as any municipality and the problems exist everywhere. The beauty is the location is right smack in the middle.”

Basciano suggested implementing a “fast-track process for affordable housing; maybe less staff involvement and more council involvement. What it can’t mean is site plans that involve the public. Sometimes it takes 90 days and turns it into a year.”

City planner Denise Landry suggested having group meetings “and getting on the same page” with agencies such as the MTO, “and figure out what’s required so it will speed the process up.”

D’Angela and Neale would like to create a committee to continue examining the issue.

Source: Thorold News

2018-08-29T15:47:59+00:00