MARCH 19, 2019 PM BILL GLISKY

Cutting development charges and fast tracking certain projects are the first steps Belleville will take to try and kick start affordable housing builds in the city.

And those likely won’t be the last actions either.

Belleville councillors agreed to several specific actions and will look for guidance on several more after spending a day and a half exploring the housing crisis facing the city.

The first-ever Belleville housing summit at Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre wrapped up Tuesday with council passing an extensive recommendation that contained few details but laid a lot of groundwork for future actions.

Mayor Mitch Panciuk said after the event that council had cleared a “big hurdle” by giving staff several recommendations that will move the city forward in addressing its housing crisis.

“Some of these will be short term, some of these will be medium term,” Panciuk said. “But the message we sent is very clear and the action we take is going to result in some progress.

“We talked about this and we are now putting into action our words.”

The most significant short term move by council is to agree to reducing development charges by 50 per cent for most apartment units being built providing rents are kept at market rate or less.

Council also set a target toward getting 1000 rental units built by 2025 and asked staff to update its policy on secondary suites to provide amnesty for existing units while encouraging new development.

As well council asked staff to prepare to update the official plan to include modernization of housing police, intensification policIes and mixed-use policies in order to increase the supply of lands available for medium and high-density residential development.

“The big issues for municipalities is how do we legally provide incentives for developers to bring in a particular kind of development on private property,” Panciuk said.

“What we had today was the mechanisms that we have available to be able to make our investment as a city.”

Bob Cottrell of All Together Housing, one of two co-chairs for the summit, said the event represented a significant step forward for the city over the last decade.

He noted that All Together Housing was formed by four groups in the city and has always been missing one key partner – the city of Belleville

“Back in the days it was easy to say affordable housing, that’s (Hastings) County,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we build in the city which covers zoning, building permits, development charges, everything.

So seeing the city here today has filled a really important role, a key partner that has been missing all the time. We are really proud of what has been done today.”

Cottrell said compared to the way things have gone in the past, affordable housing issues made a major jump forward with the summit – at light speed even.

“Perhaps relative to other municipalities we are just getting up to speed,” he acknowledged. “But I’m very content with getting up to speed.

“This is real progress. You heard some really good idea come from councillors. I think they are engaged, I think they want to see this happen, I think they are going to be held accountable. So it’s all good.”

One thing council did not do was commit money to the project at this point, despite a move by Coun. Bill Sandison to create a $1 million reserve fund for housing.

Sandison, who noted the city had spent $200 million on infrastructure in the last eight years, referred to the money as very little in the grand scheme of dealing with the housing “crisis.”

“I ask council to step up and put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “If you look at the gravity of the problem, I don’t see it as out of our reach.”

The rest of council, however, decided to take a wait and see approach before committing funding, as it did with suggestions by some councillors that development charges be waived by more than 50 per cent.

“I think the intention is good,” Panciuk said about the reserve fund idea. “But there are financial impacts of all the things we are trying to do.

“People weren’t willing to support that today. Maybe someday they will.”

Staff will review the information from the summit and the recommendations and have reports back to council for budget meetings starting April 1.