It doesn’t matter how creative a city is when it comes to affordable housing projects — if it doesn’t have the money, it can’t put roofs over the heads of its most vulnerable citizens, says a candidate seeking a seat on St. John’s council in the upcoming municipal election.
Sheilagh OLeary. Submitted photo
“As a society, we can beat around the bush and come up with all kinds of ideas on how to fund affordable housing, but the answer is pure and simple — without constant funding from all three levels of government, those in need will fall behind and will continue to fall through the cracks,” responded councillor-at-large candidate Paul Sears in an online survey conducted by The Telegram and the St. John’s Board of Trade.
“As a city, we need to have a social conscience that constantly reminds us to lobby hard to assist our citizens in need. It’s also important that we clarify what the definition is for affordable housing,” he said.
Most of the 30 candidates running in the capital city in the Sept. 24 election gave similar feedback when asked what council can do to address the shortage of affordable housing in St. John’s.
Only one didn’t respond to the survey — Ward 5 Coun. Wally Collins, who is seeking re-election.
While the majority agreed money is the biggest stumbling block facing municipalities in providing more affordable housing, it didn’t stop candidates from coming up with inventive ideas.
Ward 2 candidate Andrew Harvey wrote St. John’s council should require one in 10 new housing units built in the city be dedicated to affordable housing,
“In this, I emphasize engaging developers as partners in this process. In other municipalities they are able to give bonus density in residential developments in exchange for affordable housing,” he said in his response.
“When done properly, affordable housing development is a profitable venture for developers and helps increase affordable housing stock in our city,” Harvey wrote.
Councillor-at-large candidate Tom Badcock suggested a way the city could help people who can’t afford a downpayment for their own home.
“Renters are paying rents that are sometimes higher than mortage payments. Low-income families simply cannot save enough to get their down payments,” he wrote.
“I support a program to fund low-income families by providing them with their down payments and placing liens against the properties and recover the downpayments when the properties are sold. I also support our own made-in-the-province version of (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.) to guarantee mortgages,” Badcock wrote.
Fellow councillor-at-large candidate Lorne Loder said he was worried about seniors and their ability to stay in their own homes while managing to pay higher property taxes as a result of exploding property assessments.
“St. John’s should consider strategies that other cities have employed, such as allowing fixed-income seniors to defer the payment of property taxes until the sale of the home,” Loder suggested.
Ward 4 candidate Bernard Davis said it’s getting to the point where owning a home in the city is far beyond the reach of some residents.
“With a growing population and increased economic growth, low-income individuals and families are finding it more difficult to afford housing. The price of buying a new house or renting an apartment continues to rise, which is resulting in people having to choose between housing costs and other basic needs such as food,” Davis said.
“The municipality cannot afford to address this issue alone, but they can provide land, and work with developers to provide incentives for the development of affordable housing,” he suggested.
Other common ideas put forward include more emphasis on working with social groups and developers to come up with new ideas to build more units, and offering incentives or tax breaks to builders.
Current councillors who participated in the survey said affordable housing has been a priority for the city during the past several years and it has continuously invested in partnerships in the public and private sectors to provide more options.
“Council is already heavily involved working through a major housing committee and with local organizations while increasing the city portfolio,” wrote Coun. Tom Hann who is seeking re-election as a councillor-at-large.
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said the city needs more building programs that need to come from municipal, federal and provincial co-operation. In the meantime, he said he has been working with the big city mayor’s caucus to lobby the federal government not to reduce its commitment to affordable housing across the country.
“We have to understand that affordable housing is not just public housing — it is apartments at rents that people can afford and homes for sale at prices that are within the budget of young families,” wrote Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, who is also a mayoral candidate.
She said if the city’s regulations or zoning rules are somehow standing in the way of building more affordable housing, then council will have to look at changing them.
Last week, The Telegram sent all 30 St. John’s candidates a link to an online survey. A joint project of The Telegram and the board of trade, the survey polled candidates on 15 key issues.
In the coming days, The Telegram will publish stories outlining candidates’ positions on those issues.
To see their complete survey responses Click here