By Donna Howey and Peggy McIntosh, members of the Institute’s Social Finance & Affordable Housing Group
New Ways to Finance the Housing Affordability Gap: Ensuring the Sustainability of our Towns was held at Meaford Hall on November 17, 2023, https://tisgb.com/2023-events/new-ways-to-finance-the-housing-affordability-gap/ The Social Finance & Affordable Housing Group engaged over one hundred eager participants willing to learn from speakers across Canada about their experience in creating affordable housing. As the speakers described using social finance tools to make these kinds of builds viable, their stories surfaced inspiring possibilities for our Southern Georgian Bay communities. In addition to these impressive morning speakers, an afternoon workshop led by our Group’s Volunteer Facilitator, Marilyn Struthers, attracted 50 business, government, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders for a collective discussion about the morning sessions and what we might do here!
This housing forum opened with civic leaders from our region sharing their views on their municipality’s housing issues. We heard, first hand, that Southern Georgian Bay municipalities share many affordable housing challenges which include:
- insufficient infrastructure to support new builds,
- broad geographies and small tax bases, and
- the need to identify the gap between the cost of building market housing, and what is affordable for moderate income renters who are our retail, healthcare, and service workers in need of housing.
The caring and commitment of our municipal leaders to move forward on affordable housing was evident by the remarks made and by the many council members in attendance.
Following these Councillors, Mayors, and Deputy Mayor, Marilyn Struthers, gave an overview of how communities are mobilizing to address the housing crisis. The Institute’s Social Finance & Affordable Housing Group’s multi-year journey was highlighted: learning about housing needs in Southern Georgian Bay, the impact of the financialization of housing, and the influx of people who came to our region during the pandemic. Our Group’s first response to this learning was to create the TISGB Housing Toolkit a living resource which could share the knowledge we were gathering.
Grey County Senior Policy Planner, Liz Buckton, then described the elements of the Grey County Affordable Housing Action Plan. Liz shed light on how we can use census income data to determine housing need and affordability for Grey County residents. She also summarized what municipalities can do to help https://tisgb.com/social-finance-and-housing/affordable-housing-toolkit/creating-a-better-housing-environment-the-role-of-municipalities/ and emphasized that informed planning is essential.
Two panels of “Solution Finders” followed.
The first panelists shared their progress using social finance tools to create affordable housing and included Jo Reynolds, Director of Partnerships and Development, Social Innovation Canada, Lindsey Harris, Propolis, Kamloops, BC, who worked with Tapestry Community Bonds, Colleen Sklar, JohnQ Public Impact Inc https://johnq.ca/ a building cooperative of 9 Manitoba municipalities; and Ashley Smith of Fundamental Inc. who presented Newfoundland’s success with Social Purpose REITs, including net zero building. There were examples of municipalities working together to reduce spending on building costs while keeping “green” environmentally. “Great to have an important two-for”, as Marilyn Struthers said.
Panel Two spoke of “getting over speed bumps” and moving forward. Speakers were from nearby communities: Fay Martin, Places For People, Haliburton County; Sylvia Stratham, non-profit housing developer & Manager, Lutheran Social Services in Owen Sound https://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/news/local-news/owen-sound-council-hears-plans-for-affordable-seniors-apartment-building ; Krystal Valencia, Founder of Rental Rescue; and Marg Scheben-Edey, Collingwood Affordable Housing Task Force https://engage.collingwood.ca/affordable-housing
Hearing how money was raised, with solid returns from Community Bonds lit up eyes in the audience, percolated ideas and generated conversation for the afternoon session. Knowing that communities have created affordable housing, have comprehensive plans to facilitate affordable housing development, and have successfully raised the funds for affordable housing was motivating!
For the afternoon session, tables were formed with each municipality represented by a variety of sectors, along with an “experienced representative” from the affordable housing community. The collective discussion began with “Big Ideas” from the morning speakers. The common themes clearly expressed included the need to learn more about using Social Finance, the exciting potential for using community bonds, and the urgency to meet our housing needs.
What we all learned on November 17th was complex, but hopeful, and certainly a bit different for each of us, as we are all at difference places on this journey of understanding the affordable housing crisis.
Ideas and messages that rose to the top of the discussions include:
- Meeting our housing needs is necessary to sustain our towns and will take the cooperation of a broad community. Private and public sectors, all levels of government, for-profit developers and not-for-profit housing developers are all needed.
- Housing development needs to be informed by data that identifies labour force income and available suitable build sites whether for retrofit or land for new builds.
- Municipal councils and staff engagement is essential as they are key to improving the efficiency of approvals for builds. Municipalities need to consider tools available to them such as adjusting zoning and having a variety of pre-approved design builds. Municipalities may need to guarantee loans, or bonds to make real strides towards having the housing their residents need.
- Social finance tools need to be explored more deeply with real numbers and specifics of how these tools could be applied in our towns to support the development of affordable rental housing.
- All communities need to be receptive to borrowing the best thinking, ideas, and practices from our neighbours, our region, our province and across the country.
The Housing Forum produced collective motivation to plan, act, and get building –resources, networks, and of course, housing. Please share this newsletter and ask everyone to subscribe to it www.tisgb.com. Stay tuned to upcoming articles about our Social Finance & Affordable Housing Group’s next steps planning session held on January 19th.
You can see the video footage from the November 17th housing forum and find out more at: https://tisgb.com/2023-events/new-ways-to-finance-the-housing-affordability-gap/ .