Alternative title: A Cut by Any Other Name Leaves a Scar
If you, like me, were on Twitter on Thursday night, the grief was palpable when the cut to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund was tabled and then passed. It hasn’t taken long for the Mayor and Councillors to hear that grief, and they have begun to respond with their rationale.
One of the dilemmas of municipal politics is that in spite of the best laid plans, many decisions and programs are one quick vote away from being over-turned. Take a fairly benign example from the last City Council meeting. A developer wants to apply to do a property just west of Richmond north of Oxford. Staff is requesting that a parking survey be done first, which has annoyed the developer as they are one block outside of an already existing parking survey. However, for staff to make the best decision on the application, they need the info for the block in question. Regardless of staff’s reasonable request to follow best practices of decision-making on development, council voted overwhelmingly in favour of proceeding with the application without the parking survey. Plans and best-practices are trumped by politics.
The same is true of the rationale now being provided for decreasing the annual payment into the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund by $1M. The Mayor and Councillor White have suggested that they actually have a new plan that allows us to serve more citizens for less. Unfortunately, this is dependent on our believing that we missed something crucial in the current London Community Housing Strategy that represents the culmination of a 10 year process, was prepared by the leading Canadian consultant on housing and homelessness, involved consultation with 100’s of Londoners and review of over 7000 pages of data and best-practices, cost us thousands of dollars, and included strategies for review and refinement.
The Housing Strategy recognizes the need to increase affordable housing through multiple delivery models, and calls for 375 new units. This is the number that Council is now suggesting can be decreased. So, how was this number landed on? Was it not well thought out? From page 77-78 of the 2010 strategy, in setting this target the City included consideration of: the housing continuum, indicators of need, funding available, growth of the community, volume of existing housing stock, previous targets and achievements, other City initiatives, other initiatives from other orders of government, policy, local resources, perspectives of persons with lived experience, themes from public consultations, and the timeframe of implementation. Did the Mayor do this thorough of a job before submitting his last minute briefing note that led to the vote to cut?
Although I make no pretensions to have the same depth of understanding as those who crafted the strategy, I will highlight a couple key points on building new:
- It is essential for attracting private investment, which is more than we attract from other orders of government.
- It leads to increased tax assessment value in our community.
- It means long-term support versus notoriously time-limited and administration heavy rent supplements.
- It allows for smart development in existing neighbourhoods such as seeking commercial at grade opportunities.
And lastly, have I mentioned point 5.3 of the Council approved Housing Strategy – “Maintain annual $2 million City investment in affordable housing”?