Zoning Changes and the Housing Accelerator Fund

Zoning Changes and Accelerating the Housing Supply

 

New information has come to light in recent days, and I would like to provide an update.  

I opposed the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) when it came to Council in November, due to lack of consultation, very few details and seemingly a made-in-Toronto solution to housing needs. I continue to be concerned with zoning changes that could hurt neighbourhoods. I have always advocated to grow our city smarter. Growing inward and upward helps Saskatoon become more affordable, efficient, and sustainable but this must be done with community input and a full understanding of the impact.  

Over the past 8 months, our administration has created a made-in-Saskatoon plan that mitigates the most impactful parts of the HAF through regulation. However, I am also learning important new information that has heightened concerns about what happens if we do not go forward with these changes.

 Regardless of the outcome from Thursday’s public hearing, future federal funding may be tied to the changes outlined in the HAF program. This would mean things such as large basic infrastructure projects may not move forward. Cities rely heavily on other orders of government for large capital projects.

 As we prepare for the public hearing this Thursday, I am speaking with officials in Ottawa and working with colleagues to find ways to ensure our neighbourhoods are respected. So far, Ottawa has agreed to some important made-in-Saskatoon changes that mitigate impact through regulation. For example, a four-storey unit on a residential street would be subject to severe restrictions, and additional cost to developers, making the likelihood of this happening very small. These are concessions we have now, but if we reject HAF at public hearing, we risk losing the money ($41+ million dollars)and also the concessions. If the next Council is seeking future funding, the process would need to start over again, at minimum losing the 2024 dollars and delaying urgent plans to create affordable housing in our city.

 There have been concerns that other cities have received more favourable treatment.  I have learned that each agreement is different based on community size, progression of modern public transportation infrastructure and height rather than storeys. Both the federal Liberals and Conservatives have indicated they will require cities to add this kind of density and eliminate restrictive zoning.

Like cities across the country, Saskatoon is facing a housing crisis especially at the lowest end of the housing continuum, however HAF is only loosely connected to the zoning changes.  Ottawa is creating a fund to maximize housing starts where there is access to public transit, but the zoning changes do not mean that affordable housing projects will happen in the interior of Ward 6 neighbourhoods.  Common sense would tell us that the cost of the land alone would make that prohibitive. Ottawa is requiring however, that cities no longer make additional density illegal in the interior of neighbourhood. The current deal allows Saskatoon to use regulation to protect the interior on residential streets.

I will continue to work to fully understand the impacts as we move to public hearing on Thursday, where Council is being asked to make a final decision around the zoning changes. Let’s keep working together to make sure we are making the best decisions possible for our city today, and into the future.

Warm Regards,

Cynthia

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