News

New rentals a goal of housing plan

By Karena Walter, The Standard

For sale signs adorn lawns of two houses in the east end of St. Catharines on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

For sale signs adorn lawns of two houses in the east end of St. Catharines on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Julie Jocsak/ St. Catharines Standard/ Postmedia Network

A new housing plan announced this week by the provincial government could help St. Catharines increase its stock for desperately needed rental apartments.

St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik said the city will explore the province’s $125 million program aimed at encouraging the private sector to construct new rental apartment buildings through development charge rebates.

The city’s demand for rentals is so great, its vacancy rate is currently below three per cent — the target set by city council.

“We need to get the private sector cranes back in the air,” Sendzik said Friday. “If what the province announced yesterday allows us to get more cranes in the air to build more high-rises in our community... I believe that will help soften and release the demand that’s currently there today.”

But Sendzik said he hoped the province’s plan to expand rent control to all private rental units in Ontario won’t take the steam out of that rental unit development.

He said the city needs more product in the community and not measures that create a false negative for the development community.

The province announced 16 measures on Thursday aimed at helping more people find affordable homes. The move comes in the wake of spiking housing prices in Toronto and the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which includes Niagara.

Glen Walker, chair of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, said the province’s measures are encouraging.

“We’ve been hearing here in Niagara Region that the vacancy rate is down, rents are going up and lots of people aren’t even able to afford to move around the region,” said Walker, whose network has 30 member agencies. “These measures I think are going to provide some relief to people, there’s no doubt about it.”

Walker said he also hoped rent control wouldn’t deter developers from creating new rental units, but said it’s an important piece of the plan. Prices are going up and people who can’t afford the hike haven’t had any recourse, he said.

Niagara’s inventory is also older and there are a lot of sub-standard units and costly units that don’t meet peoples’ needs, he said.

“On top of that, we’re getting people who just can’t afford to rent a unit, especially those on fixed incomes. They’re using the majority of their allowances just to cover rent and when you do that, what’s left for food? What’s left for clothing?” Walker said. “It really does put a lot of pressure on people on ODSP, Ontario Works, Canada pension, so certainly if there is more opportunity to freeze rental pricing that’s going to benefit everybody in the community.”

Walker said he hoped the program aimed at encouraging construction of new rental apartment buildings will stimulate developers to create more rental properties. New construction tends to be for condos and high-end housing, not for people who need new, lower cost housing or rental units.

St. Catharines Liberal MPP Jim Bradley said the province’s plan was multi-pronged and looked at supply as being a significant piece.

“I think it was wise to make a comprehensive plan and one that came after some considerable consultation with all the players in the field,” Bradley said.

“We want to ensure as a society that there’s going to be affordable housing for everyone, including the next generation.”

But Welland NDP MPP Cindy Forster, whose riding includes a section of south St. Catharines, said the plan doesn’t help people who have already seen their rents spike because it’s not retro-active.

And she said it’s too little too late for the people who’ve found themselves priced out of the housing market.

“This has been a long-standing issue. Rents have continued to rise, particularly in big cities like Toronto. There’s not enough affordable housing anywhere in this province, including the north, including Niagara,” she said.

“The government needs to make investments every year, not just when there’s a crisis.”

 

kwalter@postmedia.com 



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