Is affordable housing ‘really’ the developer’s responsibility?

Whose responsibility is it to create affordable housing? Is it something for the public or private sector to deal with? According to Elaine Della-Mattia’s Nov. 10 article in the Sault Star: “Resident opposes two planned projects,” and the city’s Official Plan, it is currently a developer’s responsibility. Two projects were being debated recently as the city had waived the affordable housing components that are required under the Official Plan and a local citizen was trying to hold them to it.

I’m torn on this one. Affordable housing is important, otherwise we see more poverty, homelessness, and crime in the community. But is it really the developer’s responsibility? I’d like to know more of the thought process that went into creating the rule in the first place.

If it is on the books, it should be followed and the developers should be held to include the 30 percent affordable housing component to their over 50 unit developments. Or perhaps the rule is outdated and should be reconsidered? Either way, our new Mayor and council need to consider this more thoroughly.

The city has been told over and over that developers won’t continue with their proposed projects if made to do the affordable housing component. Based on this, the city has waived the requirement. Why would they do that? In part, because they want the additional property tax from 50 new residential units, not to mention that they get more property tax on higher value units. It is almost a conflict of interest for the city to make these decisions, as they have little short and medium term benefit in following their Official Plan.

It’s also a profit debate for developers. But we’ve heard businesses rail against rulings made for the benefit of citizens in the past. Remember the pushback from restaurants and bars saying that they’d all go bankrupt if forced to not allow smoking inside anymore? Did all bars and restaurants close? What about with the increased minimum wage? Businesses adapt. That said, of course they will complain and avoid doing something that will require change, and may or may not impact their bottom line for the betterment of people or the planet.

This situation is a bit different. First off, it’s less like the smoking decree and more like the minimum wage increase, as affordable housing is linked to community welfare. Second, developers aren’t guessing that it will impact their bottom line, they know it will impact their bottom line. With a 50-unit development, and a 30 per cent affordable housing component, developers know that they will lose revenue on 15 units.

The city’s decision then needs to be based on whether the increased tax revenue from those 15 units is worth the increased burden on city resources (poverty, homelessness, and crime). They should not be being held hostage by developers saying that they will take their ball and go home if made to follow the rules.

But back to my opening question: whose responsibility should it be? It has to be a public responsibility, as the private sector will not choose to make less money. Based on that the city can either supplement the developer’s lost income on the sale of the 15 low income units to ensure they are built, or can schedule their own 15-unit development for every 50-unit private sector project.

Simply removing the requirement doesn’t address the community’s need for affordable housing. Before removing or waiving the affordable housing requirement, more thought is required, and profit and property tax can’t be the only concern. Community wellness and security is important.

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