City of Barrie proposing builds on land zoned institutional to address affordable housing crisis

City would fund at least 10 feasibility studies

Mayor Jeff Lehman got full support from city council on Monday to write all owners of institutionally designated properties in Barrie indicating the intention to allow housing as-of-right on their properties, and inviting them to contact the city to discuss the potential for the construction of affordable housing on their properties.

“What we’re specifically looking at here are places of worship, church properties and other places of worship that have large pieces of property that might be good locations for affordable housing projects,” Lehman told Barrie 360.

Once projects are determined, city staff would seek proposals from consultants in accordance with Barrie’s procurement bylaw to conduct feasibility studies for affordable housing projects on institutionally designated properties, owned by non-profit or charitable organizations. This would be funded by the city’s community benefit reserve for a total of as many as 10 studies at a maximum cost of $20,000 each.

Lehman, who chairs the city’s affordable housing task force, said there are a number of such locations already in Barrie, but then institutional zoning was changed a long time ago that prevented residential uses.

“In June, planning staff brought a proposed Official Plan amendment to city council which would allow as-of-right housing to be built on institutional property,” said Lehman.

“Right now, you can only really build whatever they’re intended for. If it’s a health care site, you have to build the clinic, and you can’t really build much else. If it’s a place of worship, you can build the church, and you can’t build too much else.”

With the housing crisis Barrie is facing, Lehman said the city really does need to look at sites that haven’t been traditionally used for housing, or where in the last 20 years the city has prevented that.

He said the second part of his motion to fund feasibility studies was because a lot of these organizations such as service clubs and churches don’t necessarily have the experience in-house to be able to figure out how many apartments could be built.

Going back three or four years ago, Lehman said he contacted just about all the faith organizations he could find and had a meeting at city hall to talk about the potential for affordable housing on their properties.

“Many of them did identify the barrier that their site wasn’t zoned for it, and they would have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process,” said Lehman. “Others didn’t feel that was sort of what they were about.”

“We have had two or three churches in Barrie proceed with projects.”

The city has initiated the Official Plan and zoning bylaw changes for affordable housing, according to Lehman, and there was a public meeting in June. A staff report to planning committee is expected in the second week of September.

Lehman said there can be a misconception about affordable housing.

“It’s not homeless shelters. They are part of the emergency system, and unfortunately, there are nowhere near enough spaces. But that’s not what really we’re talking about when we talk about the affordable housing situation,” the mayor explained. “What we’re talking about is market rent apartments that are at or below the average rent in the city. It covers a huge range.”

According to PadMapper.com, Barrie was the third most expensive city in Canada to rent an apartment.

The online site reported that a one-bedroom in Barrie rose 4.8 per cent in July to an average of $1,730 – $20 more than what renters would pay in Toronto, which slipped to fourth place, behind Barrie, Vancouver and Burnaby.

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