Not-for-profit corporation could provide vehicle for affordable housing development

Councillors hear about a new concept for affordable housing creation last month. (Chad Ibbotson/Gazette staff)

CHAD IBBOTSON

STAFF WRITER

Councillors heard the case for creating a County affordable housing not-for-profit corporation during Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

On behalf of the County’s Affordable Housing Task Team, director of community development and special projects Neil Carbone outlined the creation of the not-for-profit corporation and how it could provide an effective avenue to increase the local stock of affordable housing.

“This is the culmination of four to five months worth of research and discussion and something we feel could potentially be very impactful for quite a long time,” he said.

The structure of the corporation would be similar to the newly created County Cultivation Corporation, which is a single-member non-share capital corporation. The difference would be the affordable housing corporation would be truly independent and function like a business, Carbone said. It would have its own board of directors appointed by council who would have autonomy and a broad mandate to address the affordable housing issue.

“It would be expected to be self-sufficient,” Carbone said. “This would function like a business with funding it receives for rent or revenue it receives through housing developments helping to sustain its operations on a not-for-profit basis.”

The corporation could boost affordable housing in the county in a number of ways, Carbone said. The corporation could increase available funding through new and traditional sources and would provide a reliable vehicle to transfer any municipal assets for affordable housing. The corporation could work to initiate and support new projects in co-operation with community stakeholders and the development community.
“It could do everything from raise and distribute funds, which we know are needed, all the way to holding and distributing assets, building affordable housing and even operating affordable housing,” he said. “The key there is that we need a variety of solutions and this entity would be set up in order to get involved wherever it is needed, however it is needed.”

The benefit of that broad scope, he said, would be in being able to choose its level of involvement in projects. The corporation wouldn’t compete with existing affordable or social housing operations. Consolidating operations and management in some cases could also produce some cost savings.

Having the corporation created by the municipality would present a number of advantages over other not-for-profit corporations. It would give the corporation access to surplus land, input through Prince Edward/Lennox and Addington Social Services, and there would be a county-wide focus. Additionally, charitable receipts could be issued for donations.

“A trusted board with expertise that is very public with good governance and has these other abilities will give investors more confidence,” said Carbone.

However, the corporation would be kept at arm’s length from the municipality. This would allow for a more focused approach to the issue. Community expertise could be leveraged and a business-like approach could be taken. It would also depoliticize the affordable housing issue, Carbone said.

Council would establish the purpose of the corporation, appoint directors, receive financial reports and would be able to assess the effectiveness of initiatives. Council could also enter into agreements with the corporation for land or funding and collaborate on areas of municipal jurisdiction, such as land-use planning.

It’s not a wholly new concept. Other municipalities such as Barrie and Whistler, B.C. have established their own not-for-profit housing corporations and those could provide a road map for the County, Carbone said.

He said there are already two housing developments a County not-for-profit corporation could support. Those are the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Network that is working on a proposal for the site of the former Wellington Arena and the LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub proposal for Pinecrest school in Bloomfield.

There’s a well-recognized need for more affordable housing in the municipality, Carbone said, and it’s impacting the county in a number of ways. Through the municipality’s business retention and expansion studies it became clear that the lack of affordable housing is resulting in local labour shortages and limiting local business growth. The issue is also exacerbating social divides.

“This idea of new versus old, this idea of the haves and the have-nots and if we don’t address affordable housing, among other things in a community that is rapidly changing and evolving, we risk creating some serious divides in the community,” Carbone said.

It’s a problem that isn’t going away and won’t work itself out. A 35 per cent drop in the median house value in Prince Edward County would be needed to restore the relation of house prices to income to 2013 levels. Carbone said a correction on that scale is unprecedented and is just not going to happen.

Earlier this year Carbone told councillors the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) conducts a rental market survey each October. That data is used as the basis for funding through an affordable housing development charge rebate program, CMHC seed funding, and the CMHC Rental Construction Financing Initiative. To be eligible for those programs the vacancy rate must be under three per cent, but the county’s rate was assessed at 4.8 per cent. Carbone said those numbers didn’t seem to fit with local experience. The municipality is currently undertaking a rental vacancy survey and preliminary data from 46 surveyed rental properties with three or more units shows a rental vacancy rate of 5.2 per cent. However, 26 of the 35 total vacancies found to this point were part of the Wellings of Picton development. With those omitted, there are nine rental vacancies, representing a rate of about 1.5 per cent.

Councillor Steve Ferguson was among those who supported the concept.

“This is absolutely first rate, I can’t see any downside to this whatsoever,” he said. “It’s innovative, it’s proactive, it ticks all the right boxes.”

Councillor Kevin Gale also felt the corporation could provide the boost to affordable housing council has been seeking.

“This is a topic we have talked about for years and when we first started talking about it, there was a need — now I think were at a point where there’s almost a crisis in the community,” he said. “I support this 100 per cent, it’s the first time I’ve seen a logical approach to starting to take care of the problem.”

While there was no action taken during the meeting, Carbone said a report with additional information and a recommendation will come forward to the next committee-of-the-whole meeting on July 26. If approved by the committee at that time, it could come forward to council for ratification by Aug. 7. Objects of the corporation could be defined and directors appointed by this fall.