URBAN MATTERS: Ratholes approved, Downtown going backwards.

A short time ago the Studio10 burnt down; it was the Ratholes upstairs, killing one of the occupants.

So it comes as a big surprise that City Council, with short memories, would approve the creation of a boarding house in an old Downtown Queen Street building, sandwiched between two other old Downtown Queen Street buildings, just after another old Downtown Queen Street building burnt down.

We are going backwards on Downtown Queen Street urban revitalization; a solution similar to Downtown SOO, MI: Osborne Commons, a 60-plus-unit affordable housing complex complete with a grocery/convenience store is needed.  Osborne Commons is a result of a partnership between the Municipality of SOO, MI, the USA Federal Government (TARP) funds, and an affordable housing management company.

SOO, MI took the first and most important steps in this process by becoming the land and infrastructure developer. They systematically acquired the properties needed for the project under a land banking program. The City of SOO, MI then acquired funding (State Government) to complete the necessary underground infrastructure; making the affordable housing project shovel-ready. Finally, an affordable housing management company was selected to build and manage the project; ensuring targeted affordable rent with a low interest Federal Government (TARP) loan.

Osborne Commons is professionally designed, built, maintained, provides the necessary on-site amenities, has fire and safety features built-in, and importantly on-site security and safety. Osborne Commons is an affordable housing project built by SOO, MI Municipal Leadership, a Social Entrepreneurship partnership, and (TARP); this represents the future of urban affordable housing creation.

Finally, here in Ontario, we have the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) and the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) that mirrors the USA (TARP) program providing new affordable housing funding directly to the Municipality.  So why can’t we build an Osborn Commons in our Downtown?

Understanding the big systemic change:

The (HAF) and (RHI) funds are given directly to the Municipality and NOT the Private Sector Developer because:

The Private Sector Developer is NOT wanted in Affordable Housing or Non-Market Rentals.

The Private Sector Developer should NOT be in Affordable Housing or Non-Market Rentals.

The Private Sector Developer does NOT want to be in Affordable Housing or Non-Market Rentals.

To obtain the (HAF) and (RHI) dollars our City Planning Department must have an Affordable Housing Strategy that demonstrates these necessary key components:

Land Banking: The City of Sault Ste. Marie accepts the responsibility of acquiring the property necessary for the creation of affordable housing. No more giving property to the Toronto Developer.

Infrastructure Development through Reverse Development: Creating the space necessary by expropriating and demolishing existing Dead Asset Buildings and Homes in our “Old Neighbourhood”. Freeing up the existing infrastructure is significantly less expensive than installing new infrastructure; creating new affordable housing requires better utilization of our “Old Neighbourhoods”.

Empowering Social Service Groups Entrepreneurship:  The (HAF), (RHI) and other (CHMC) funding programs target Social Service Groups with a mandate to house and care for their constituents. These groups are Urban First Nations, Co-operative Social Housing, Not for Profit Social Housing, Municipal Housing, etc. These groups are expected to become the new affordable housing project landlords and property managers through direct funding from the (HAF), (RHI), and other (CHMC) funding programs.

Systemic Changes in Urban Development Responsibility:  Because the money from these massive new Federal and Provincial Housing Programs is given directly to the Municipality; it cuts out the Private Sector Developer. Direct municipal funding shifts urban development responsibility to the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie. The City’s various departments (EDC, Planning, Building) must source the Social Service Groups, provide the necessary training to make them Social Housing Entrepreneurs, and help them access the (HAF) and (RHI) funds to create and manage the new Affordable Housing Projects (similar to Osborn Commons, SOO, MI).

This is a huge systemic change for our various Municipal City Departments to accept. For the past decades all new city development projects were built and paid for by the Private Developer. These Federal and Provincial Housing Programs want better use of the existing urban infrastructure, in existing neighbourhoods, on a bus route; that is why the funding is given directly to the municipalities.

So the challenge this: can our City accept the systemic change in responsibility for new urban development? Can our City create a land banking policy and program, empower Social Entrepreneurship, and provide leadership through Social Financialization to build proper new affordable housing (like Osborne Commons) or do we go backwards to the Ratholes?

Mark Menean, URBAN MATTERS;  Thank you, Osborne Commons, SOO, MI.

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