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Barrie City Council Determined to Secure Federal Funding Amidst Nymbism and Government Uncertainty

During the City Council Meeting on October 25 at Barrie City Hall, a significant motion was passed. This directive authorized staff and development services to conduct a dedicated statutory public meeting to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw. Ward 10 Councillor Sergio Morales, who proposed the motion, highlighted the urgency by referring to the current situation as a “generational housing crisis.” The aim of the motion is to access the funding grant from the federal government.

Morales said it would achieve two objectives. First, it would allow ‘as of right’ construction of four-unit residential buildings on properties currently zoned for single, semi-detached, or street townhouses. Secondly, it would consider rezoning certain municipal lands, as outlined in Motion 23-g-179, to facilitate additional housing construction. Moreover, staff and development services are to present their recommendations to the General Community Committee in the first quarter of 2024.

The Federal Housing Accelerator Grant (HAF) program offers the City of Barrie a prime opportunity to overhaul its development management policies, procedures, and processes. This reform is integral to fulfilling a housing pledge aimed at bolstering the housing supply.

Ward 1 Councillor Clare Riepma was among the councillors who voiced support for the motion. “We’ve seen that with the third suites certainly in Ward 1, where there were additional suites added to homes, and they’re being rented for $2,500 to $2,800,“ he said. “So we’re not making any progress on affordability. Yes, we are providing more housing and meeting housing targets. But affordability is still beyond us.“

Councillors Bryn Hamilton and Gary Harvey raised concerns about potential NIMBYism in relation to the proposed federal program. Despite their reservations regarding the ‘Not In My Backyard’ attitude, they still acknowledged the importance of securing the funding.

Hamilton said she heard concerns from her ward residents. “We need to have a balance, we need to make sure that we are still preserving some of the characteristics in our well established neighborhoods, because that is also what makes our city great.“ Hamilton did not clarify the definition of well-established neighborhoods. “I think it (federal funding) could go a long way to actually helping us and supporting us in in building more affordable housing.“

The city’s Development Services Director, Michelle Banfield, estimated that the HAF funding could amount to approximately $43 million.

Mayor Alex Nuttall expressed dissatisfaction with the federal housing program’s lack of clarity, contrasting it with his commendation for the provincial program’s transparency.

“You’ve got a provincial government that’s doing one thing, you got a federal government that’s doing another,” he said.

Nuttall highlighted work done under his leadership to approve more housing projects. “Around the table, we are crushing it. By the end of this year, we will release 10,000 units into the ability to be built. That is 20% of the existing city of various residential units. That’s incredible.“

Nuttall also expressed concerns about the city’s limited influence over federal government decisions, demonstrating a hesitant reception toward the program given the big dollar amount.

“We gotta dance,” he said, referring to fulfilling the federal requirements. “I think we need to get the money from the feds in the province. And I think we need to invest it really wisely.”

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