Sunday, July 21, 2024

‘A very flawed program’: All Belleville council, except Mayor Ellis, vote against supporting province’s housing pledge

Belleville City Hall. – Photo by Hollie Pratt-Campbell/Hometownist

In a recorded City of Belleville council meeting on Monday evening, all council members except for Mayor Neil Ellis voted against supporting a housing pledge to the Province of Ontario for the City’s participation in the Building Faster Fund, due to unclear conditions tied to accessing funding and skepticism regarding commitments for the associated funding. Council engaged in a comprehensive discussion on the matter, displaying a mix of skepticism and cautious consideration.

The majority of the discussion centred around a discrepancy between the province’s tracking system and the City’s recorded data on housing starts and completions. Several councillors raised concerns about the ambiguity in defining housing units, the validity of the targets, and the effectiveness of Ontario’s tracking methods. This comprehensive discussion highlighted a sense of skepticism, hesitancy, and a pursuit of a clearer understanding before committing to the provincial housing targets and associated funding.

“It’s a demonstration of a very flawed program. What’s concerning, too, is the province’s silence,” Ward 2 Councillor Paul Carr said during Monday’s meeting. “I don’t know if this is a way to keep that funding suppressed, by using these tools versus actually using the statistics that are existing on the ground,” Carr added, regarding discrepancies in housing build tracking numbers.

The City of Belleville’s Engineering & Development Services department prepared a document for council’s review, which recommended council reaffirm its commitment to surpass the housing targets set by Ontario. This recommendation aligned with the city’s strategic plan to provide diverse housing options reflecting changing demographics and affordability needs. In addition, the document outlined the City of Belleville’s efforts to increase housing supply and affordability, including adopting a new Official Plan, approving reduced parking requirements for affordable rental housing, and initiating a Corridor Study along Bell Boulevard and North Front Street to identify residential opportunities.

“I’m very cautious about this. It would be terrible if we all voted not in favour, and it was to our detriment,” Ward 1 Councillor Lisa Anne Chatten said.

Council also discussed a letter dated November 1, 2023, addressed to Mayor Neil Ellis from Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra. The letter commended Mayor Ellis for the municipality’s commitment to reaching its proposed 2031 housing target. In addition, the letter also highlighted the expansion of Strong Mayor Powers to heads of council in 18 municipalities, emphasizing the authorities granted under this mandate, such as appointing certain municipal positions, vetoing by-laws, proposing budgets, and bringing forward matters aligning with provincial priorities like housing and infrastructure. Calandra’s letter emphasized the importance of committing to housing targets for Belleville’s eligibility for the Building Faster Fund. It encouraged municipalities to submit council-approved pledges, outlining steps to achieve housing targets, by December 15, 2023. The letter also clarified that submitting the pledge is not a precondition for accessing funding under the program.

Council reiterated the dire need for addressing housing challenges not just in Belleville but province-wide, while also honing in on its desire for further clarity and transparency in commitments linked to provincial housing targets and funding. Council remains focused on fostering housing diversity and affordability in the Friendly City, while seeking greater clarity and collaboration with the provincial government in meeting these objectives.

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