Non-profits seek alliance with developers to overcome homelessness

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STAFF WRITER
– The Ottawa Construction News

Leaders of Ottawa’s non-profit housing sector are ready to partner with the city and developers to create a viable inclusionary zoning framework for Ottawa, indicates Mike Bulthuis, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.

The alliance, which operates citywide, and is funded by its member organizations and several granting agencies, including the United Way, convened a May 18 meeting with about 35 representatives of non-profit housing providers, city staff, and representatives of the GOHBA and private sector, to explore options for affordable housing. The timing couldn’t have been more exact: That is the day the provincial government introduced the Promoting Affordable Housing Act to enable cities to mandate inclusionary zoning.

Bulthuis says both the private and nonprofit sectors agree that everyone should be able to have a home, and people shouldn’t spend more than they can afford on housing. “Can we come to some agreement around measures (to create the affordable housing) that makes sense?”

These could include leveraging municipal planning tools, and developing solutions for capital costs, “whatever tools we can tap into to help lower the cost of development,” Bulthuis said.

“There’s a recognition we (non-profits and the development community) represent different interests, but also have common goals. Let’s have a dialogue.”

Bulthuis says while builders are concerned that the inclusionary zoning rules may prove to be an additional tax on development, raising costs, this is rarely the case where the system has been applied, because of the “package of tools put into place” to mitigate the additional costs.

He suggests that the non-profit community could benefit through partnerships with developers, with their eye on the market and their skills in financial management and business, and developers could find relationships with non-profit organizations effective in incorporating and operating the low cost housing while ensuring the overall project remains economically viable.

“How do we avoid a situation where we would inflate prices for everyone else, with a new tax on homebuyers?” Bulthuis asked. “We need to spend time together, private and non-profit representatives, we need to dialogue and communicate about the different worlds we represent.”

Relating the scale of the problem, Bulthuis said it can be interpreted on different levels.

At the most urgent level, in Ottawa, 6,800 individuals required emergency homeless shelter last year and there are 10,000 households on the list for subsidized housing. Looked at in another way, some 22,000 rental households are currently spending more than 50 per cent of their income on housing.

“Each of these are indicators representing different levels of need,” Bulthuis said. For example, many of the 22,000 in unaffordable rental housing may simply need a rent subsidy to stay in place, and there may be ways for non-profits and landlords to make vacant rental units available for affordable or supportive housing.

“We can work together, too, to create complete communities – ones with residential development, small business and social enterprise. There are different ways these kinds of partnerships can happen – and each of them is significant and makes a difference in the long term,” he said. “Both sides have much to learn from each other.”

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