Affordable housing isn't a quick or easy solution in Midland, but something must be done to ensure residents' quality of life.
Gord McKay, chair of council’s Task Force on Affordable Housing (TFAH) and previous mayor of Midland, addressed council during a recent regular meeting to provide an update and presentation of the committee’s results.
“We’re not talking about housing specifically," clarified McKay. "We’re talking about people’s lives, their well-being, whether they can put food on the table, we’re talking about the economy of Midland.
"This is no light topic,” McKay declared. “This is one that transcends everything that happens in our community and speaks profoundly to the well-being of our citizens.”
Given a budget of $27,000 last year, the TFAH was challenged to explore options for affordable housing needs in the town. Housing models were researched, resource requirements were identified, and a public survey through the Engaging Midland website was conducted.
Of the 141 participants to the survey, 97.9% believed there is a housing problem in Midland. Insufficient household income is mentioned by 96%, while lack of physical housing supply was mentioned by 79%.
While the TFAH had council's commitment to encourage development of affordable housing, they lacked the resources to motivate housing projects.Their request at the meeting was to have council agree in principle for overarching financial and land incentives in an affordable housing CIP (Community Improvement Plan) to use as various tools in handling developers.
"We'd like to recommend these two particular mechanisms to offset those costs," McKay suggested. "One could be a 0.75% levy on the property tax that would fund this operation, consultants, some building costs, or particular studies being done.
"The other one is a 50% interest from the legacy fund. As you well know," said the former mayor, "Midland's got roughly $11-million in a legacy fund that generates interest on an annual basis; and not to touch the principle but that interest is available for good projects by the town."
Coun. Bill Gordon asked the TFAH what impact Midland as a two-tier municipality could have, since provincial funding would go to the county and not to the town.
McKay replied that having the right tools could make all the difference, but that it wouldn't be a quick solution.
"I hate to say (it, but) this is a lifestyle change for the town," said McKay firmly. "This is something, once you start this path we've got to be serious about continuing it.
"We have lacked affordable housing for decades, and we're not going to resolve this problem in a couple of years. But this is the first step; it gives us the tools, the attitude, the leadership to actually make a substantial change about housing."
Municipal consultant Dan Lebrecque told council that the primary complaint from developers everywhere was that the planning process was too lengthy from a time-is-money standpoint.
"It's probably worth more getting a process that works with the community quickly then any of the grant incentives that you can do," said Lebrecque. "There's a lot you can do to make yourself affordable housing -friendly, just from looking at your zoning, bylaws, and processes.
"The rest is about money, but if you have a friendly planning process, that makes a big difference in getting people to come to you."
Coun. Jon Main, part of the TFAH, shared knowledge of other emergent tools, such as land trusts popular in British Columbia, and prezoning town properties while looking to Midland's upcoming zoning bylaw review.
Mayor Stewart Strathearn, also a TFAH member, noted that the county had handed out funds to other municipalities for affordable housing, but turned down Midland in their bid due to lack of preparation and tools.
"This is an exercise in getting us there to be prepared," said Strathearn, who also mentioned the recent federal election showed every party pledging to support affordable housing, with anticipation for many programs to come.
Council carried a motion to direct staff in developing a CIP which would study the tools outlined and provide council by summer of next year with an update; as well as considering a 0.75% levy and/or allocation of 50% of the earned income from the MPUC legacy fund in the 2022 budget as a continued annual contribution.
Information on the Task Force for Affordable Housing presentation to council can be found on the agenda page of the Town of Midland website.
Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.