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Barrie's revised community improvement plan could spur affordable housing

'Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges and issues that we’re facing as a city,' says city councillor
Residential construction new downtown Barrie is shown in a file photo.

Barrie could be getting a new carrot for its affordable housing stick.

A recent public meeting reviewed a new, proposed community improvement plan (CIP) to provide financial incentives designed to increase the supply of housing and rental housing, and to accelerate the construction of new housing throughout Barrie — by reducing the cost of new housing development for non-profit and market developers seeking to deliver affordable options, and market-rate rental housing.

“Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges and issues that we’re facing as a city,” said Coun. Craig Nixon, chairman of the city’s affordability committee, which hosted the May 8 public meeting.

That the CIP incentives are financial is also timely.

The city’s CIP reserve balance is a little more than $3.2 million. City council could also use some of its federal housing accelerator fund money, totalling $25.7 million over three years, and/or provincial building better faster funds, $6.34 million, both granted earlier this year, to the CIP programs.

“Council will need to determine the initial budget for CIPs for the remainder of 2024 and decide whether to fund all of the programs equally,” said senior planner Shelby White, “or allocate funding to specific programs for the remainder of 2024 and then consider additional funding into 2025 for annual budget (talks).”

Community improvement can include the development, redevelopment or construction of residential uses and buildings, including affordable housing.

The proposed CIP even includes some numbers on affordable housing in 2024.

The city says an "affordable" bachelor apartment in Barrie is $1,145 a month, a one-bedroom $1,430, two-bedroom $1,610 and three-bedroom $1,781 a month, while owning a home costs $399,338.

College Crescent resident Noreen McDonald made a plea to councillors during the public meeting.

“When we’re thinking about affordability, really favour non-profit organizations, co-ops and those things,” she said. “Those are the ones that become more affordable to the people of Barrie.

“Sometimes the towers that we’re building and the condos that we’re building are beautiful, but they’re not affordable. They’re not affordable for families, they’re not affordable for students," McDonald added. 

There are basically seven ways CIP funding would be available in the new program, to this point.

The per-door grant supports the creation of new affordable rental and ownership housing, with no set funding limit, as the applicant makes a request based on project needs. Projects must include affordable housing.

The tax increment equivalent grant is annual, for as long as five years, for medium- and high-density built rentals, with a value equal to an incremental increase in property tax after reassessment.

The development charges (DCs) equivalent grant, for mixed-use and mixed-income development, is available only to non-profit and charitable organizations. It’s to offset the cost of including commercial and institutional space, or market rental units, within affordable housing projects. Grant value is tied to the percentage of housing units that are affordable.

DCs are designed to recover the capital costs associated with residential and non-residential (commercial, industrial, institutional) growth within a municipality from developers, so that existing residents don’t have to foot the bill.

Also on the DCs front, there’s an equivalent grant for four-plexes. It’s to offset additional DC costs of constructing four rental housing units on a single lot. The grant is only for the portion of the project that relates to a fourth unit that is not already receiving a DC reduction under the Development Charges Act.

Then there’s the approval to defer DCs to when the occupancy permit is issued, instead of the building permit, for qualifying high-density residential or mixed-use projects, which owe a minimum of $3 million in DCs at the 2024 rate.

There’s also a Barrie bonus for additional residential units (ARUs), a one-time grant payment to homeowners who have received funding through the County of Simcoe’s second-suites program, to further assist creating an affordable ARU — second suite, coach house, third ARU or fourth ARU on their property. The maximum grant amount proposed is $15,000 per ARU.

And last but not least, the homeownership forgivable loan is down-payment assistance to qualifying Barrie residents by a 20-year, forgivable loan, with a proposed maximum loan 10 per cent of the purchase price, to a maximum of $50,000. Prospective homeowners and the home they wish to purchase must meet eligibility criteria. The maximum home purchase price is $712,300, the maximum net household income of purchasers is $121,500.

The revised CIP and staff recommendation are expected to be on general committee’s May 29 agenda.