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Pitch for affordable housing how-to guide divides TBM council

'At the end of the day, it’s a vendor asking us to buy something, even if it’s the best idea in the world,' says deputy mayor
Julie Scarcella of The Georgian Bay Housing Initiative speaks to The Blue Mountains council on June 19.

The Blue Mountains council was split on the question of accepting an unsolicited pitch from an outside firm to assist in the creation of a program that would help local developers interested in building affordable housing.

Julie Scarcella of The Georgian Bay Housing Initiative attended council’s meeting on June 19 and offered to work with the town to create a concierge developers package for affordable housing. Scarcella’s presentation estimated that phase one of the project would cost no more than $25,000.

The concept, like a how-to guide, would see The Blue Mountains work with the housing initiative to set up the concierge program to assist non-profit and private-sector developers of affordable rental and ownership housing, to navigate through site selection, funding, incentives, partnerships, and approvals processes.

“We’re all well aware of the affordable housing challenges we’ve had over the years,” said Scarcella. “Clearly there is a lack of tools and resources here in this municipality.”

The presentation resulted in considerable discussion around the council table about how to proceed and the next steps.

The matter divided council and ended with a 4-3 vote in favour of endorsing Scarcella’s proposal and having it as an option to consider during the town’s process to develop a comprehensive housing needs strategy. The town is currently recruiting a project manager to lead that process.

Councillors Paula Hope, June Porter, Alex Maxwell and Shawn McKinlay combined to vote in favour of the endorsement of the program. The proposed program will be sent for consideration to the town’s project manager for the needs assessment once that individual is hired.

Coun. Paula Hope expressed concerns that attainable housing isn’t proceeding as quickly as possible and was hopeful the program could help advance the town’s attainable agenda.

“I do see a need for speed,” said Hope.

Other members were concerned that council was essentially voting to immediately endorse a program that had come forward in a 10-minute deputation.

“This is not the way I like to do business at the council table,” said Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon. “We have an RFP (request for proposals/bids) process.”

The deputy mayor suggested that council should receive the presentation and forward its contents to staff for further consideration.

“At the end of the day, it’s a vendor asking us to buy something, even if it’s the best idea in the world,” he said.

The concerns prompted Coun. Shawn McKinlay to suggest the wording in the resolution be changed from “endorse” to “support in principle.”

However, town staff clarified that as long as the resolution didn’t mention the $25,000 estimate that was included in the presentation it would be adequate.

“We will make sure this information is part of the overall review for a comprehensive housing strategy,” said CAO Shawn Everitt. “This information would have been passed on to the project manager. It is an option to be considered.”

Hope agreed.

“All we’re doing is putting this proposal on the table of the project manager when he or she arrives,” she said.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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