Posted August 20, 2021
A landmark “social contract” with the company behind a massive redevelopment in Ottawa’s Heron Gate neighbourhood isn’t affordable enough and doesn’t give enough protection from evictions, a tenants advocacy group says.
“We are still studying it, but the initial sentiment is that we’re extremely disappointed with the details,” said Last Mazambani, co-chair of the South Ottawa chapter of ACORN. “We’re extremely disappointed with what we have on the table.”
The five-point memorandum of understanding between the city and developer, Hazelview Investments (formerly Timbercreek), was made public late Monday and will be debated next week at the city’s planning committee. The deal reserves 20 per cent of the 6,427 total residences as affordable housing, for periods of 10 and 20 years. The entire redevelopment will take 20 to 25 years.
But Mazambani says Hazelview’s definition of affordable is based on city-wide median income, currently $109,500, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The agreement sets the affordable rents in a series of steps, geared to people earning 20, 30, 40 and 50 per cent of the median income. But that’s still too high, he said.
“The way they defined affordability is really based on people who have income of the level of $100,000 plus. Those are not the people who live in Heron Gate,” he said. “They’re talking about $1,200 a month for a single-bedroom apartment. That is not affordable for this neighbourhood. We do surveys that check the income of our neighbours and they don’t fit in that profile.”
The deal also limits how long the residences will be kept as “affordable.” Half will be designated as affordable for 10 years and the remainder for 20. Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier acknowledged to this newspaper on Monday that the duration of the deal is one of the aspects that worries him, “but ‘forever’ is hard to get an agreement on.”
Mazambani said the time limit is “not acceptable.”
“At a point in time, there will be some people who will struggle economically and as a society we have to provide those certainties in perpetuity.”
Since 2015, Hazelview has demolished 236 residences after evicting the families that lived in them. If the development goes ahead, it plans to knock down about 500 more aging townhouses and garden homes. The deal guarantees those residents will be offered equivalent accommodation in new or renovated properties at the same rent.
Mazambani is dubious that promise can be kept, but in a response Wednesday, Hazelview said the agreement legally binds them to accommodate any and all displaced residents.
ACORN plans to hold a meeting later this week to go over the deal in more detail with Heron Gate residents and then will formulate an “action plan,” he said.
Cloutier acknowledged Monday that the deal with Hazelview “wasn’t perfect,” but said it was a step forward and provides immediate benefit to Ottawa’s housing emergency. Hazelview says it has invested $175 million in the neighbourhood since 2015 and remains committed to continued investment and working with the community as the project moves ahead.
Article by Blair Crawford for the Ottawa Citizen