With local housing costs continuing to climb, The Blue Mountains Mayor Alar Soever is concerned about the future of his community.
Soever, at his council’s meeting on May 24, said the lack of attainable and affordable housing options have him concerned The Blue Mountains, as a community, is in trouble.
“This community is quickly becoming dysfunctional because of the cost of housing. We’ll soon cease to function,” the mayor said during a discussion and debate about the Gateway attainable housing project. “This community will be a ghetto of wealthy retired people.”
Soever said he envisions a future in which local restaurants and doctor’s offices struggle to find employees, because they lack housing.
The mayor’s comments came during a lengthy and, at times, tense discussion about the The Gateway Project. Jennifer Bisley, Executive Director of The Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC), updated council on the corporation’s activities and the Gateway Project to build attainable housing on town-owned land located at 171 King Street.
BMAHC hopes to select a design/builder through an RFP process this summer and then proceed to the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to request grant funding for Gateway. During her presentation, Bisley requested that the town advance BMAHC loan money to ensure the corporation continues to operate during the municipal election period. She also requested a $360,000 increase in the loan for a total of $800,000.
The request for more money was questioned by Coun. Paula Hope.
“It’s difficult to think about forwarding that much more money,” said Hope. “Why are we being asked for this much money at this point?”
Hope also questioned why the town was not pursuing an overall housing strategy and a needs assessment for the community and said options other than the Gateway Project are possible to help solve the housing issue.
Hope’s comments drew criticism from Coun. Rob Sampson and Soever, who sit on BMAHC’s board of directors.
“It is totally inconsistent and unrealistic to expect us as a corporation to proceed to ask CMHC for funding when there is no skin in the game from the town,” said Sampson. “The ask is no different from what was being presented and asked of us about one year ago.”
In response, Hope said she preferred an answer to her questions that wasn’t “patronizing.”
“I’d like an answer to the question. Why are we increasing this burden now on this council?” said Hope.
Sampson said the town had created BMAHC and gave it the mandate to build attainable housing for the community. He said the corporation’s only source of revenue at this point is funding from the town.
“If we expect it to do its job, it needs to have a reliable revenue source,” he said.
Soever said BMAHC is moving into the next phase with Gateway, which will require extra staff to prepare for the RFP process and the application to CMHC.
“Without having that funding in place, I don’t see how we can make commitments to hire these people and go forward,” he said.
The Gateway Project, if it proceeds, would see 84 residential units built with 50 per cent of them being at attainable rents. The project also includes 12,500 square feet of non-residential space on the ground floor.
“The question here is: do we want to make a relatively small investment in the future? It will keep our community functional into the future,” said Soever.
Council voted to accept the report from Bisley and later voted 6-1, with Hope opposed, to extend the town’s loan agreement with BMAHC to November 2023.