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City of Brantford Council discusses social housing

City of BrantfordCity of Brantford Council discusses social housing

City of Brantford council members held a discussion surrounding social housing during its regular council meeting on Tuesday, December 19, 2023.

When the Social Services Committee report came up for discussion during the meeting, councillors were voting to receive the Housing Development Mapping portion of the report, when Councillor Mandy Samwell moved an amendment asking for community housing to be built across all wards going forward.

The amendment read as follows:

“That for Community Housing in the City of Brantford, STAFF BE DIRECTED to develop future (after units completed or identified in table 3 of 2023-719) Community Housing developed in the ten year Affordable Housing Action Plan, in a manner that will progress to a balanced amount of Community Housing across city wards at the conclusion of the Affordable Housing Action Plan (2030)”

Samwell made her own comment following the amendment.

“I really just wanted to say that I think it’s important that we work towards a balanced approach to where we’re placing our city housing throughout our wards and our neighbourhoods,” she said. “Staff did an excellent job with the report, really detailing the differences in where all of the housing is placed. If anybody wanted to look at that report and see the different amounts of housing that’s in each ward or where they’re placed, that would be a really interesting read for them.”

Councillor Greg Martin said that he would not be supporting the amendment.

“Part of the reason why there’s more social housing in ward five is because the ward includes the downtown. That’s where the services are for people that need them, and to put them up in the third ward, or the top of the fourth or at the top of the second ward, they would have a long way to travel to get to the services that they need,” he said. “I think that does a disservice to the people that will be living in those houses. The transit system in Brantford isn’t the greatest, and it would take them a while to get to the downtown from the North end. So, I don’t think that it’s appropriate that we direct staff to try and find locations in the wards that have little social housing now, because there’s a reason why they have little social housing.”

Councillor Rose Sicoli said that while she was grateful for Samwell bringing forward the eye-opening report, she would also not be supporting the amendment as it would “handcuff” council when it came to building where and when land became available.

“I think if we have a shortage of affordable housing and we have this need for affordable housing, we shouldn’t be putting up red tape for our staff to move forward. So for that reason, I’m not going to be supporting this. …I think moving forward, I’m certainly going to be making decisions with these numbers in mind and making sure that we create a more balanced community,” she said. “But I don’t want to see us with any more red tape before us when we’re looking to build affordable housing. I think we should be taking each project and looking at it on its own.”

Councillor Brian Van Tilborg then noted that the community has been “asking us to share the load across the city.”

“We do need all these rent-geared income and affordable housing builds. We do need the City to pick up the slack, but it can’t all continue to go into ward five. I know when the Province offers up monies to do a development, they will give a very short timeline and the first thing City Staff does is say, ‘we’ve got property here on Marlene Avenue,’” he said. “What we are essentially doing, is saying that by not accepting this amendment, Marlene Avenue will be getting more affordable housing. …Ward five is heavily burdened.”

He said the ward has been feeling the burden for decades.

“It’s time for everyone else to pull their weight. A roof over your head and food in your belly, is not particular to one specific ward and it can be done anywhere. The community has been saying ‘we need more affordable housing, but please not here.’ When you say the resources are in our ward, they are not. If you really want to look at the locations, they’re specifically and heavily dominated in Eagle Place. We are carrying 40 per cent of the load in one ward for the whole community. When you don’t spread it out, you’re just telling the community ‘you’re getting more, deal with it.’”

Councillor Dan McCreary, then commended Samwell and City Staff for the report but agreed with Sicoli and Martin.

“We’ve got something that’s being built in the first ward now, but I think if you want to equate things, it’s going to be a while before you can build anything in the newer wards,” he said. “We’re going to be a number of years away before we’re going to be on the ground with anything north of Powerline Road, and I’d hate to not be able to provide opportunities to people in need because ward three can’t meet its quota of builds for the next five to seven years. So, I’m not going to support the amendment, though I really do appreciate the intention and I don’t disagree with the intention, but I just think that it lacks in terms of practicality for us to be able to put into effect, the things that we want to do in our community to support folks in need.”

Councillor Richard Carpenter then added his thoughts to the discussion.

“We all agree that we should be building social housing all over the community and lots of it. …There isn’t a need to say ‘it’s closer to services and that’s why it’s built there.’ That’s not an argument I can accept,” he said. “The whole idea of spreading social housing around is so that you do have options, and you have children going to school knowing there’s options and they can go to college or university. That they can achieve things that their neighbours are achieving, and that social housing doesn’t mean it’s a place where they’re stuck to.”

He went on to say that it would be nice if the provincial and federal government believed in social housing and put dollars towards it.

“Paying for social housing is a provincial and federal responsibility and has been for generations until they decided to start down-loading it,” he said. “We didn’t think it would have an impact on us, but it certainly does now. We need our MPP and MP to step up here and get loud. We have to find social housing across the province of Ontario and across the country [because] you can’t just say to municipalities ‘it’s your problem and the taxpayer has to have their taxes increased to build social housing,’ when it’s not really our responsibility. We seem to be taking on more and more of the provincial and federal government responsibilities.”

Councillor John Sless then noted that social housing is different than when it was in concentrated areas “with everyone living in a complex.” He said that it’s now more diverse in order to make developments more sustainable, and often includes a mix of housing options.

“Based on not wanting to put up more roadblocks and creating more problems in trying to develop and find locations, I think we’re overselling the fact that it’s social housing,” he said. “It’s not, it’s a mixed housing. …So, for those reasons, I won’t be supporting it [the amendment] either.”

The vote on the amendment then failed with a vote of four to seven, noting that Carpenter, Van Tilborg, Samwell and Hunt voted in favour of the amendment.

Van Tilborg then added his final thoughts and asked staff how many social housing units currently exist in ward five.

Brian Hutchings, Brantford’s CAO, responded saying there are 959 units (a total of 35 percent of the City) located in the ward.

Van Tilborg said that whether or not the amendment failed, affordable or social housing needs to be spread out.

“You do create a stigma when you create more and more in one particular area. In fact, I almost feel that, when councillors are stating things like ‘it all has to be down in this area’ and that’s why they’re not supporting it, that in itself is a stigma,” he said. “We have welcomed plenty. When somebody suggests it’s not a burden, well … we don’t get the new schools that are being built in the North end or the new schools that were built in West Brant. We currently have to bus students out of our ward to go to other schools. Affordable housing is often children who need a place to stay and a place to go. We don’t have all those recreational facilities that exist across other cities. It’s just good planning and that’s all we’re trying to reinforce.”

The final vote to receive the rest of the Social Services Committee Report was carried on a vote of 11-0.

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