Posted August 23, 2021
A Heron Gate tenants group says the city should have fought harder for a more realistic definition of affordability when negotiating the binding memorandum of understanding meant to guarantee social commitments with a developer.
Residents who've organized under the community advocacy group ACORN say the agreement with Hazelview Investments misses the mark by calculating affordability based on average market rent and portion of income based on city-wide statistics.
That is higher than the average income of a tenant who would live in this Heron Gate area.
"The target income must be the income of the people in the affected community," said Last Mazambani, co-chair of the South Ottawa ACORN chapter.
"This means affordable for people on [the Ontario Disability Support Program] and pension funds and the working poor within the Heron Gate community, whose annual income is less than $45,000."
The City of Ottawa report says the cheapest one-bedroom unit would cost $1,200, while ACORN says three- and four-bedroom units should be available at a similar price to meet the needs of families in the community.
The advocacy group says residents are also concerned the agreement says rent controls expire in 20 years for some units and 10 years for new builds.
"As if they think the poor are going to evaporate in 20 years," said former Heron Gate resident Mavis Finnamore, adding the city should stand up for residents.
Hazelview says the agreement was the result of years of community consultations and would be legally binding if ownership changed.
It guarantees 20 per cent of newly built units will be affordable, and anybody displaced by the destruction of their existing unit must first be provided the option of moving to a newly-constructed equivalent unit at the same rent.
Evicted tenants should be able to return
Mazambani said former residents also want a right-to-return for tenants who were previously evicted, including some of the 500 people displaced for a demolition in 2018.
ACORN also wants 25-30 per cent of units in each phase of the development to be categorized as affordable housing.
Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier, who represents the area including Heron Gate, said people who moved away will be able to apply for the new affordable units.
He said the social contract with the developer has secured many benefits — including $1 million for a park — from the developer through the planning process, even though the developer has rights to build under current zoning.
"The new park, the affordable housing, the housing security ... the diverse housing that will be created are over and above what their obligations would usually be," Cloutier said.
The definition city staff developed for affordable housing came from existing policy documents — the city's own policies, provincial policy statements and the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, the councillor added.
"I wanted the duration to be longer. I want the affordability to be deeper. But, again, we are working under the Planning Act," Cloutier said.
He said people who require additional support to make rent for those units can apply for support programs based on those definitions, and work is ongoing to address the housing shortage at all levels of government, which could include new affordable options when rent controls at Heron Gate expire.
Cloutier also admitted more work is needed at the site plan stage to implement the agreement with Hazelview to ensure the landlord meets maintenance standards.
The amendment plan is set to go to the city's planning committee on Aug. 26.
Article by Matthew Kupfer for CBC News