Affordable Housing Scheme Is Cynical

Article excerpt

BRANDON -- The Manitoba legislature adjourned for its Christmas break last week, but that won't prevent Manitoba politicians from arguing the merits of provincial government legislation.

On Monday, Brandon city council will debate a motion calling on the Selinger government to withdraw Bill 7, which would amend the Planning Act and the City of Winnipeg Charter.

According to a Selinger government news release, the proposed amendments would "give municipalities the authority to encourage or require new residential developments to include homes that are affordable to low-and moderate-income households."

The amendments would include "specific zoning bylaw provisions that would allow municipalities to either take a mandatory or incentive-based approach to requiring affordable housing... and provisions on development agreements between the municipality and the developer that would intend on protecting the ongoing affordability of the housing units."

In plain language, the new law would give local governments the power to control the cost of housing, and to force developers to set aside a portion of residential housing developments for affordable housing, at their cost.

Those are powers Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst would like to have. She is quoted in the release as saying, "We are looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity and strongly encourage other municipalities dealing with affordable housing challenges to do the same."

That sentence has drawn the ire of city councillor Jim McCrae. In a letter to the Brandon Sun, he wrote: "I take public issue with Mayor Decter Hirst's participation in the preparation of a provincial government press release and, more importantly, her clear statement of our city's support for a specific set of policies which have not been formally raised, debated or decided upon at city council."

He added that "a significant number of councillors -- myself included -- would not support forcing developers to build low-income properties or to hold rents at artificially low levels at their own expense... All councillors want more 'affordable housing' in Brandon, but such housing should be the result of co-operative, multi-party approaches rather than top-down city council demands with no promise of public money attached... Anti-business edicts will not work; worse, they will drive business away from our community and other communities across Manitoba. …