- Written by Gordon Prentice
A new “Guideline Document” on housing affordability in York Region will be published “before June” according to Valerie Shuttleworth, the Region's Director of Long Range Planning.
She told Regional Councillors at the Committee of the Whole on 6 March 2014 that staff is working “to come up with a more practical definition of affordability”. She says the definition has to be meaningful.
At the moment, “affordable” means affordable to households in the lowest 60th percentile of the income distribution.
Translated, this means a property costing a hefty $417,300 (in 2012) is deemed by York Region to be affordable. Yet to service the mortgage while leaving enough cash to get by day-to-day requires an annual household income of more than $110,000.
$417,300 is "affordable"
The Regional number crunchers make various assumptions in coming to this eye-watering figure for ownership. They assume, for example, a 5% down payment and amortisation over 25 years.
Still, the idea that a property at $417,300 is affordable to many people is risible. The average household income in York Region is well under $110,000.
According to the National Household Survey 2011 the median household income of all households in Ontario (half way between the highest and lowest incomes) is $66,358. The average total household income in Ontario is $85,772. The median income for all Canadians is $47,868.
The price of certain types of housing has sky-rocked. The average resale price of a single detached dwelling in York Region in 2011 was a cool $643,088.
Some people cannot afford to buy or choose not to. For them, the rental affordability threshold is set at $1,067 per month.
The Region has been grappling with housing affordability issues for decades. A 2004 study reported that there was no overall improvement in housing affordability in York Region over the decade from 1991-2001. Back then one in every four households in York Region was paying over 30% of total household income on housing. A staggering one in ten was paying over 50% of total income on housing.
We shall soon see how these figures have changed when the Region’s 10 year Housing Plan and Affordable Housing Guidelines is finalised mid-year and submitted to the Province.
The Region currently sets targets for affordable housing:
25% of all new housing should be affordable Region wide
35% in Centres and Corridors should be affordable
Against this background, Shuttleworth muses aloud at what really constitutes “affordability”.
Affordability by Municipality
Interestingly, she says they are looking at a definition of affordability by municipality.
This really would throw a spanner in the works for the development industry. What if each of the nine municipalities came up with their own definition?
Imagine the outcry if developers are told they have to deliver 35% affordable housing in, for example, a new development in Newmarket centre and that the affordability benchmark is not to be the current, rarified $417,300 but something much more achievable and down-to-earth.
Regional staff tell councillors, “implementing policy is the hardest part”.
What if the developers go on strike? They will say they can’t afford to build accommodation and sell it at the price the Region stipulates.
What if the targets are not met?
And what if “affordable housing” remains unaffordable for far too many people?
Those running for election in October will have to supply convincing answers.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
York Regional Police tell me that the investigation into the alleged threats against Stephen Somerville and his family “has been concluded and our file is closed”.
Somerville pulled out of the race for the Progressive Conservative nomination to succeed retiring MPP Frank Klees on 19 February. He cited threats against himself and his family as the reason for withdrawing.
Nominations close today (6 March) with the candidate selection due on 20 March.
Earlier today, Regional Council candidate, Darryl Wolk, tweeted:
I expect that there will not be a democratic race for Newmarket-Aurora PC nomination. Unless there is a surprise, it will be an acclamation.
This is an astonishing turn of events. A big ripe plum has just fallen into the lap of Jane Twinney who could inherit a relatively safe PC held seat without ever being tested against other contenders for the nomination.
I understand there were as many as 12 candidates who thought about throwing their hat into the ring when Klees announced his intention not to seek re-election.
Who knows what impact the alleged threats against Somerville had in thinning out the potential field?
In the October 2011 Provincial election Frank Klees (PC) received 17,201 votes (46.2%); Christina Bisanz (Liberal) received 13,487 votes (36.2%); Robin Wardlaw (NDP) 5,477 (14.7%) and Kristopher Kuysten (Green) 1,061 (2.9%)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Last night, I make my way through the snow to Crosslands Church where the Glenway Preservation Association is holding its final briefing meeting for residents before the OMB hearing gets under way at the Best Western Voyageur in Yonge Street on 17 March.
The stakes are high.
The cold and calculating Marianneville Developments bought the former golf course for a song and now want to bulldoze their way through the neighbourhood, building 730 residential units on the old fairways and putting greens.
The President of the GPA, Christina Bisanz, tells the thinner than usual audience that it has been a long hard slog. I think issue fatigue has set in. Most people have done their bit and now are waiting to see how things play out
She insists “it’s a fight that ain’t fair” but we stand a good chance of success. The GPA is in lock-step with the Town and each will be supporting the other’s arguments.
Some local pundits shamefully threw in the towel ages ago, believing that nothing could stop a determined developer with time and money at their disposal. It is good to hear Christina Bisanz saying there is everything to play for.
Respect the lawyers
Now it is the turn of Esther Armchuck-Ball, the Town’s solicitor, who reminds us of the history of the Marianneville applications and then takes us through the procedures to be followed at the OMB hearing.
The first application to develop Glenway was filed by Marianneville in April 2012. It was complex and threw up a million and one questions. The Town was still mulling things over when the developer appealed to the OMB in April 2013, but on an amended application, not the original 2012 one. However, the number of residential units is precisely the same (730). Only the configuration has changed.
She tells us the decision of the OMB pre-hearing to have two phases in the main hearing works in our favour. The first phase, lasting a couple of weeks, addresses the simple question: should any development be permitted at all?
The hearing is open to the public and we are all encouraged to attend. But we are warned to maintain decorum and show respect to the lawyers and the witnesses. Hang on! It is a tall order asking the public to show respect for lawyers but I know what she means.
Marianneville states their case first
The procedures will be like a Court of Law even though the person in charge, the OMB adjudicator, may have no legal training whatsoever. The appellant, Marianneville, will open by presenting their case for the development of Glenway. They will have their three expert witnesses and have brazenly summonsed Ruth Victor who was commissioned by the Town to work on the Glenway file. (The Town’s planning staff were, apparently, too stretched with other matters for Glenway to be dealt with in-house.)
The GPA and the Town will be able to cross examine before Marianneville sums up their case. Then it is the turn of the Town and GPA to put their case to the OMB panjandrum.
At the end of Phase 1, everyone except the certified insane will be hoping the OMB rules on the principle of development. Should any development at all be permitted at Glenway? It would be lunacy of the first order if we embarked on the four week long Phase 2 only to be told at the end of the process that the OMB was not inclined to support any development at all.
What does "winning" mean?
The Town’s solicitor is now telling us what is meant by “winning”.
Winning would be the OMB dismissing outright any development of the Glenway lands. This would be like winning the lottery.
Alternatively, the OMB could rule that any development of the lands would require a further study, no doubt involving the Town and, perhaps, other interested groups.
The Town has hired Mary Bull who will be supported by the in-house legal team.
Also in the line-up is Eric Chandler, a former Director of Planning at New Tecumseth. He has also worked at the Ministry.
Now the Town’s solicitor is taking questions from the floor.
Inevitably there is a question about compensation. The OMB has no authority to award any. If people bought their properties because of some attractive feature that is now going to be obliterated by the Marianneville development then that is something between the aggrieved buyer and the original seller. (Translation: Forget compensation)
One astute questioner wonders aloud if we are not over-complicating things. He likens what is happening to being burgled and then being told by the Police to negotiate with the burglar to get your possessions back.
Esther Armchuk-Ball now wraps up by telling us that everyone has a fundamental right to ask for a change of use of the property they own. That is lawyer-speak telling us Marianneville can keep coming back so long as they have the stamina and the cash.
Now the Mayor is invited onto the stage. He is in full lyrical mode. I learn that we are in the cradle of the process. He tells us the closer we get to the Courtroom steps, the narrower are the options. He has been watching his old Perry Mason VHS tapes again.
There is no clarion call. He limply says we should stick with the Official Plan and “we shall see how equitable the process is.” (possibly, not very)
Next up is John Taylor who is more animated than usual.
He tells us we are on the final lap and we are in a great position. He congratulates the Glenway crowd for being “cohesive”.
He repeats to great effect a line I’ve heard before. “I have a forest behind my house and if someone wanted to build there I’d be furious!”
He sounded angry. (Or gave a good impression of sounding angry.)
That’s what people want to hear.
He says to enthusiastic applause that we have the right to decide what our community looks like, not the developers. He is hopeful, proud but also frustrated by the entire process.
Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, is now telling us he is “cautiously optimistic”.
The threat to Glenway has brought people out to public meetings in a way not seen for decades. He tells us the unanimous vote by the Town in November to oppose the development was hugely significant. Over 600 people witnessed it.
Now he is boasting “Newmarket hasn’t had public meetings like that since the rebellion of 1837!”
(Dave Kerwin remembers these)
This is great stuff.
Now Dave Sovran brings everyone back down to earth with a bump when he says the GPA’s legal and planning costs are burning money.
The GPA can pay for the legal and planning expertise they need for Phase 1 but then the cash would run out.
And if Phase 1 is lost then Marianneville, cunning and calculating as ever, could seek to exclude the GPA from Phase 2 that deals with the myriad of technical issues from storm water ponds to road lay-outs.
If this happens, the GPA will have to rely on the Town and its consultant planning expert, Ruth Victor.
With the OMB hearing now imminent, the councillors are forced to sing her praises. Taylor tells us she is quite tenacious and up to speed on technical issues. Chris Emanuel tells us she supported a phased hearing.
Tony Van Bynen tells us she was hired by the Town to provide professional advice, without fear or favour.
This is, of course, complete Mayoral cobblers.
When you buy in professional services you want the person to be singing your song, not composing their own at your expense.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Bob Forrest, the developer who wants to demolish irreplaceable historic commercial properties in Newmarket’s Main Street, has given the tenants a reprieve for at least 6 months.
In a rumoured $1.7m deal last year Forrest bought a string of properties adjacent to the Old Post Office as the land was needed for his proposed condo.
He gave the small business tenants six months notice to quit by 31 March but he has had a re-think following recent set backs.
A packed public meeting in the Council Chamber on 3 February showed a clear and vocal majority of local residents against the developer’s latest plan. Councillors have also grasped the simple fact that Forrest needs Town owned land for his project to work.
It is in no-one's interests for flourishing small businesses to be kicked out onto the street and for retail frontages to be boarded up. As I understand it, Lemon and Lime, the upscale furniture and upholstery store, is determined to keep trading. So too is the Pizza Place next door and the DVD shop. The Upper Crust coffee shop has already closed and the hairdresser, next to the Old Post Office, is relocating. My spies tell me the Insurance broker wants to stay put.
Town planners will be putting a report on the Clock Tower to the Committee of the Whole in April.
Councillors should reject the Forrest condo plan outright. The question then is how long will Forrest want to hold on to land he cannot develop? If he sells the land on, I suspect we shall see a more sympathetic proposal come forward.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The anonymous blogger NTHW takes great offence that I rely on (an unnamed) "impeccable authority" to report that councillor Maddie Di Muccio withdrew the allegation made in her press release of 11 February that Stephen Somerville was responsible for the now notorious YouTube ad which portrayed her as a scheming opportunist.
The self important blogger fears for the credibility of his or her blog.
There is a simple solution.
Instead of foaming at the mouth and getting all indignant why doesn't the blogger simply ask Di Muccio (publicly, via NTHW) if she told the Era Banner
(a) she did not know who was responsible for the YouTube ad
(b) the press release she issued on 11 February in which she referred to “a fellow candidate” being responsible was misinterpreted.
(c) the references to he “were in a general sense and not directed at a male”.
The blogger shouldn't be coy about pressing Di Muccio for clear, straightforward answers. After all, she is a great fan.
To refresh our memory, in the 11 February press release Di Muccio
“…expressed sadness and shock that a fellow candidate has targeted her with an ugly, negative personal attack ad.
“Desperate candidates do desperate things,” said Di Muccio. “My opponent knows I have strong support in the party’s grassroots, he knows my message is resonating with PC members, he knows I can win this nomination, so in response he’s resorted to attacking my character with a negative ad. It’s sad; it’s shocking; it’s wrong.”
If that isn't an explicit reference to Stephen Somerville then I am Harry Potter.
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