A Community Improvement Plan or CIP is a tool that allows a municipality to direct funds and implement policy initiatives toward a specifically defined project area. Section 28 of the Planning Act gives municipalities that have enabling policies in their official plans, the ability to prepare Community Improvement Plans.
Cobourg over the last couple of Council terms has had at least two of them. One was the Downtown CIP and the latest was the Affordable Housing Community Improvement Plan. This one was adopted two years ago and the budget so far for two years has been $375K. a report of last year’s grants awarded is here. CobourgNews reported here on the results of the Downtown CIP for 2019
So the question is what are we getting for this money? This debate has been kicked off with the news that the Balder Corporation, which is building 71 units on William and University has asked that the terms of an original CIP request be amended. CobourgNews reported on this original application – here. At no time has the definition of “affordable housing” been clearly defined, clearly a problem for policy writers and the committee that reviewed the applications.
The Staff report dated Sept 6 2022 reads: Funding Balder Corporation’s project in the amount of $147,913.87 has the effect of facilitating the creation of 15 affordable units in the very near future. This will address an immediate need in the community and achieves a key priority of providing affordable and attaining housing as well as 56 rental units as well.
Now for reasons explained by the developers they have asked that the 15 promised units be reduced to 4. Was Council misled and if so how can they avoid this from happening in the future? One of the reasons was that there was a 20% cost overrun, the usual Covid problems etc. However the fact that the developer encountered financial problems should not be a reason to renege on the agreement. Obviously the differing definitions of “affordable” is a huge concern for as we found out Staff still recommended and Council adopted the report because the CHMC definition prevailed as that definition is the one that covers off the CIP regulations. The fact that the CHMC definition is so out of touch with reality should be of great concern to all – especially Council.
Philosophically should Council be providing funds to owners/developers who would be renovating their properties even if the Grants/loans/deferments without the added funds. It appears to the BurdReport that people apply for the money if it is there – “Provide the money they will apply!” Even the biggest developer in Town had its hand out in the last Housing CIP. In the midst of all this discussion about the CIP and Balder and the Private Sector we have missed talking about another project that has received CIP funding in the last two rounds; Trinity Housing.
Cobourg has a long history of supporting Church built housing. St. Peter’s Court is an affordable rental housing complex. We do not know the history of the project but it has 64 ‘affordable’ rental units in 16 bungalows. The Town, years ago, entered into a tax deferral arrangement which enabled the success of the project and the deferral still exists.
Trinity United Church working with perhaps the most knowledgeable person in Town, about the subject of non-profit housing – former Reeve of Cobourg; Lloyd Williams, set about and constructed a non-profit rental building; Trinity Place. This 20 unit complex is planning an expansion – a mixed market complex with 27 units, 17 of which will meet the Town’s definition of ‘affordable’. The project is slowly winding its way through the bureaucratic maze of coordinating all of the granting agencies. Some grants are dependent on grants from other agencies and the actual job of coordination is very complex. So the progress on this application is slow and steady. Trinity has applied, with success, for CIP funding since the programme began.
The Town has two major projects with CIP funding, which one provides the best results for ‘affordable’ housing – come on down Trinity! So in a perfect world Council would have withdrawn the funding from Balder and given it to Trinity. But Council obviously contemplating a legal fight caved and allowed Balder to collect the money. But as an exercise in public education the experience has been invaluable.
Lessons learned from this will obviously be to rewrite the definitions of ‘affordable’ so as to finance the kind of rental units needed not just allow developers to apply for a small amount of money they should not need if the project was properly financed.