Chris SimonBarrie AdvanceWednesday, May 26, 2021
GIMME SHELTER – Few things are more fundamental in life than having a place to lay your head. That is why, every week in May, we will be taking readers through a close examination of various aspects of housing. This series will look at home prices, first-time buyers, renters, developers and more. Read more here.
If the affordable housing crisis was easy to solve, it would’ve been done by now.
But many developers and City of Barrie officials are working hard to find solutions, Pratt Homes owner Karen Hansen said. The Barrie-area builder got creative, in recent years, in order to give residents an opportunity to buy a new home.
Hansen sat on a built-form task force about five years ago, where industry professionals and municipal staff explored the affordability issue. The general consensus was that a broader variety of housing types, like three-storey walk-ups and stacked or back-to-back townhouses, could keep purchase prices reasonable.
“We have since brought quite a few of those products to market,” she said. “We feel everybody should have an opportunity to own a home, invest in the future and lay roots. This has to be a collaboration between the building industry and the city. We all collectively care very much about this issue.”
Land prices have risen substantially in recent years due to new requirements for stormwater management and other infrastructure intended to protect the environment. There’s little wiggle room on the city’s development charges, too, which pay for critical growth-related costs like new roads, water and sewer pipes, and fire and police stations necessary to service the area, Hansen said.
“The one way we can help with affordable housing, when we can’t do anything about the cost of the land (and DCs) which are fairly fixed, is the build form — the construction cost,” she said. “That’s where we can work directly with the city to get more creative.”
What else could the municipality do to incentivize developers to build more affordable-housing units? Instead of resting on their laurels after the city recently achieved its 10-year, 840-unit affordable housing target — set in 2015 — staff conceded this was nowhere near enough to bring home ownership within reach to many residents.
So they’ve committed to writing a ‘report card’ on the issue in the months to come, which will help set future goals and objectives.
“Affordable housing is not achieved by any one method or by any one body,” said city director of development Michelle Banfield. “We know there is more work to be done.”