Sunday, September 8, 2013

Towards Making Clarenville More “Affordable”

We are in the middle of some boom times in eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.   With Hebron and Vale in full swing and on our doorsteps, the demand for housing has shot up in Clarenville and prices have risen as accordingly.   This has meant that far too many people who have limited financial means are getting squeezed and squeezed pretty hard. 

We know there is a real problem because volunteer organizations, like the REACH Board (Regional Action Committee on Housing) have been formed to help address some of the problems associated with affordable housing, and the demands on the Clarenville food bank have never been greater.  These should be natural and powerful partners with the Town in addressing the problem of affordability.

The Town officially acknowledges its role in helping to provide affordable housing in its Municipal Plan (p7). Towards this end the Town has adopted some low maintenance,but equally low effect, measures towards addressing affordable housing.   Seniors & Low Income Families have a longer period of time to pay their ever increasing town taxes, interest free and property owners making a household income of less than $20,000 a year are eligible municipal tax reduction of up to 40 per cent.  (I challenge you to find a family in this town with an income at $20,000, significantly below the poverty line, who owns their own property and who could take advantage of this tax reduction).   Although this is good in principle, the gap between optics and action is just too great to have any meaningful effect.

Clearly more “real” initiatives are required to address the issue of affordability.   

The Town has a significant role here by making our town as accessible as possible.  There are a lot of great initiatives out there already and the Town, through CARA (Clarenville Area Recreation Association) has done some great work in making it possible for every kid to play.  CARA’s summer program is second to none, the Jumpstart initiative means a lot more kids can play organized sport, and we have some great playgrounds for a town this size.  Communicating the programs and places, especially to people with limited means and to newcomers, can  be improved.  The School system is the natural partner to make this happen but broader public awareness is critical as well. 

The Town can also free up land for development of lower cost, more affordable houses within new developments.   Under existing legislation the Town can require developers to dedicate land for ‘public’ purposes within a subdivision.   The traditional thinking has been that these lots are set aside for play space, but if more community play areas are built/enhanced, this land could be used for infilling smaller homes that in turn could be set aside for lower income families.  (This concept exists in Ontario and has worked well). Acting with partner organizations (the REACH Board / Service Clubs / NL Housing / Building suppliers / Developers) these homes could be built and be sold at a price that in more within reach.   Further assistance could come from Habitat for Humanity, as they have already expressed an interest in partnering to build homes in Clarenville.  

Developers too could be incentivized to build affordable housing as part of their subdivision agreements with the Town. 
Finally, there are lots of other towns that have developed successful initiatives to make housing more affordable.  Corner Brook, for example has the workings of a potential model for Clarenville.   That city provides non-profit organization’s affordable housing tax relief (see below)....this an in idea that might just work here as well. 

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