At its February 21 meeting, District of Muskoka Council gave staff a green light to submit a funding request, under the federal government’s third round of the Rapid Housing Initiative, to build one-bedroom affordable housing rental units on District property.
The units, if approved, would be built in Bracebridge along the same stretch where the District’s municipal building, the Pines, a youth housing project as well as other housing initiatives are located. The units, mostly geared toward elderly women and senior couples in the community, according to District staff, would be located behind McVittie Place.
District Commissioner Arfona Zwiers was also seeking approval from council to retain Montgomery Sisam Architects out of Toronto to design the affordable housing units. She said the District has done business with the company before. She told council the architectural company has a lot of experience in Rapid Housing Initiative projects in other areas of Ontario.
“We know that going with a single source procurement is unusual but this particular process will help us achieve the rapid housing timelines that we need for a CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) submission.”
Zwiers also asked council to approve the hiring of a company to prepare the site. “This will render the location to be shovel-ready,” she said, adding that even if the project is not approved “having prepared the site would make us that much more shovel-ready should another opportunity come about like this in the future.”
The initial project planned was a three-storey, eighteen-unit building at an estimated cost of $6.7 million. Under the program, the feds would fund just under $4 Million, with the remainder of the project including an estimated $500,000 in 2023 operational costs coming from District coffers.
Whether the District gets the bid is expected to be known sometime in July and the application deadline is March 15.
Gravenhurst Mayor Heidi Lorenz said that while the proposed project is a Muskoka-wide initiative, it would ultimately benefit those living in Bracebridge. “What can we do as communities/municipalities to make sure some of these are developed in our own communities,” she asked.
Zwier said staff has been mapping all District-owned land and District-owned community housing locations. “We have an additional set of procurements to do in order to be able to advance both of those pieces and that work is underway in consultation with our procurement professionals here at the District. I can’t exactly tell you how many properties we have under consideration in the land inventory. They are triaged according to capability or according to how easy it would be to develop them and recently we’ve had discussions about adding provincial and federally owned lands into that land inventory as well… so we can have greater scope for considering publicly owned lands that could be repurposed for affordable housing.”
District Chair Jeff Lehman told council that he had reached out to Zwier before the meeting because given that housing is such a priority in Muskoka, and there are more than 600 social housing applicants on the waiting list, he wondered whether constructing more than 18 units might be possible.
Zwiers said staff had crunched some numbers that morning and reached out to the architectures, and said tentatively an additional floor could be added to make the building four storeys with 26, rather than 18, units. Based on some cost modeling related to the addition of another eight units a total cost of about $8.4 million is estimated. That would bring the District share up to about $3.35 million with the required funding of about $5 million from the federal government.
Zwiers said the representative for CMHC with whom the District has been conversing indicated that they would be receptive to a modified project.
Prompted by an inquiry by Councillor Don Smith about whether the increase in units would result in a lower per unit construction cost and how much more would have to be generated from rents in order to service the larger project, Zwiers said it would bring the per unit construction cost down by about $50,000. She also said at existing interest rates, as set by Infrastructure Ontario, and servicing the debt over a 20-year amortization period it would add about $160 to $170 to the rent per unit on a monthly basis. She said the units would still be offered at 20 per cent below market rate and rent subsidies would still be available for those in great difficulty.
In the end, a majority of council approved the revised recommendation for another storey and more units.
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