Committee wants staff to find sites for supportive housing
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The City of Winnipeg could soon seek several large sites to build 270 modular homes for unsheltered residents.
A housing motion approved by council’s property and development committee on Wednesday would take the first steps to fulfil Mayor Scott Gillingham’s election promise to add the units, pending council approval.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, who raised the motion, said its overall goal is to expedite the addition of supportive housing units.
“We’re not in the housing business… but we absolutely are in the city-building business and we want to build housing for everyone,” she said.
Rollins noted the motion has an ambitious timeline, which calls for the public service to suggest six modular housing sites, with a target to actually build the 270 homes within eight to 12 months of site approval.
It also calls for the city to waive municipal taxes, as well as permit and development fees, for those homes and any others supported by federal Rapid Housing Initiative dollars, which can make affordable home development quicker and easier to produce, Rollins said..
If council approves, city staff would report back with recommendations in about four months. That report would also be expected to offer steps to secure federal Rapid Housing Initiative dollars, collaborate with the province on services for residents in supportive housing and attract more conversion of downtown office buildings to residences.
To entice downtown construction, city staff are asked to deem home building an allowed use in key areas and suggest options to reduce or eliminate minimum parking space requirements for housing projects.
“That (preference for housing construction would be) as good as advertising for the City of Winnipeg to say ‘Build here… make housing here,’” said Rollins.
The city hopes to obtain federal funding for the homes. Municipal costs for the project, including tax breaks and fee exemptions, won’t be known until more details are sorted out, said Rollins.
Two groups who advocate for affordable housing welcomed the proposal on Wednesday.
Jason Whitford, chief executive officer of End Homelessness Winnipeg, said about 1,500 to 1,800 more housing units are needed to serve the local homeless population, many of whom are now enduring wintry weather conditions.
“I think we’re in for a long, cold winter here with the shelters, and unsheltered individuals, at very high numbers. These resources, they can’t come soon enough,” said Whitford.
Whitford said it’s encouraging to see the city take a leadership role on the issue.
“The city has the capacity to expedite processes for land designation and the ability to redirect tax revenues… so I’m very happy to see the city commencing work in this area,” he said.
The proposal should make it much easier for organizations to get supportive housing projects completed, said Christina Maes Nino, executive director of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association.
“It will make a big difference. We certainly need more housing and for the city to be an active champion of it,” said Maes Nino.
Ideally, all affordable housing projects should be eligible for municipal support from now on, with the municipal government identifying available land and helping proponents complete the approval process, she said.
“When organizations face delays in approvals, in zoning, adjustments in permits, all of those things make the projects more expensive and, therefore, reduce the affordability or the number of units that an organization can build. If the city is facilitating that and is more active, we would get more units at a lower cost,” said Maes Nino.
She hopes new city supports can attract the creation of thousands of additional affordable housing units, ensuring help for those at high risk of becoming homeless as well as those who already live unsheltered.
Rollins noted it’s not unheard of for council to provide financial incentives to attract affordable housing. On Wednesday, the property and development committee voted to waive $20,000 of fees associated with the Harriet Street Seniors Housing project, which proposes to develop units for low-income seniors on vacant land at 55 Harriet St. in the Centennial neighbourhood.
Coun. Evan Duncan opposed the waiver, expressing concern it could create a “slippery slope” that leads many others to request the same exemption.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.