URBAN MATTERS: Sault EDC, Bloated, Out of Sync; Dock, Port, or Housing?

City Council approved the hire of a Port Economic Development Officer to examine the possibility of turning the Algoma Steel Ore Dock into a regional Port unlocking the potential natural resource wealth of Northern Ontario. 

Not a new idea, former owner, Essar International corporately and financially severed the Ore Dock from the Steel Plant to create a Port for such a purpose: or was it just another Essar scheme?

Algoma Steel will require a fully functioning deep Dock to import scrap steel and then ship out finished steel products, economically and environmentally. So is this new interest in a Port more of an upgrade to a neglected Algoma Steel Dock asset, or is there really a legitimate case for a Port facility?

In any case, into the current City EDC comes another EDC employee; but why? How many EDC employees do we currently have that could take on this task without again hiring more employees?

The position of Deputy, CAO Economic Development, formally Mr. Tom Vair’s,  (waiting to be filled); why can’t this person assume responsibility for this project? If it is a high-value account for economic development for our City, perhaps it would be best suited for the person at the top of the EDC ladder.

Two years ago Mr. Rick Van Staveren, was hired as Director, of Economic Development, SSM.   During his introduction at a City Council meeting, Mr. Van Staveren indicated that he was new to the job and would contract an outside consulting agency to determine an overall EDC strategy and direction. At that same City Council meeting two (2) veteran City Councillors asked and begged for timely progress reports. Rather than give an absolute “yes sir” answer; Mr. Van Staveren discussed possible matrix performance results. Subsequently, I have never seen or heard a report presented by Mr. Van Staveren about jobs and EDC growth created.

If Mr. Rick Van Staveren, was hired to produce jobs and businesses for the Sault, why can’t Mr. Van Staveren take on this important Port creation file?

Mr. Travis Anderson, hired to create the FutureSSM, Housing Report 2018 necessary to guide our City forward, produced a very sobering report outlining the need for 1100, (now 1600), affordable housing units. This report also brought to the fore the dismal condition of housing in our “old neighbourhoods” with 25% of housing in need of major repairs, perpetuating a culture of blight, and stymieing housing investment. This report demonstrated a “Yield Management” analysis of the different neighbourhoods based on a tax assessment comparing the tax polarity created in our City; where some neighbourhoods pay three times more in municipal taxes than others. This report should have spawned an Urban Blight Removal Program, a Community Housing Improvement Program, and an Affordable Housing Place_Making Strategy; but it did not and it was shelved and forgotten.

Subsequently Mr. Anderson was promoted to SSM Economic Development, Tourism using the Municipal Accommodations Tax dollars that everyone must pay when traveling. Perhaps Mr. Anderson, a capable and very well remunerated for his current position could add the Ports account to his portfolio. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter who takes this Port account because our EDC is out of sync. Timing is everything, and I am sure, like the Downtown Plaza, nobody at Queens Park or Parliament Hill wants to hear about a Dock or a Port. 

The Federal and Provincial Governments are in full panic mode to get affordable housing built and there is an obscene amount of money available for urban blight removal and the creation of affordable housing through the Housing Accelerator Fund, Rapid Housing Initiative, and the phalanxes of other government affordable housing programs.  However, the billions of dollars are primarily targeted to “Social Entrepreneurship and Social Financialization”, not the Private Sector Builder/Developers. There are also vast amounts of dollars available for Municipalities to take over the responsibility of urban blight removal and infrastructure development leadership, something our City seems reluctant to do. 

Recently Thunder Bay was successful in obtaining $20 million in Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) dollars to develop 600 affordable housing units because they have completed the preliminary work needed to qualify for the funding. The work requires these various components completed:

YIELD MANAGEMENT STUDIES: Identifying 40 city-owned properties that together could support 1,000 housing units.

PLACEMAKING STRATEGIES: Identify where blighted, dead asset buildings can be removed to free up space for new Affordable Housing.

COMMUNITY HOUSING IMPROVEMENT PLAN: Provide funding to homeowners, landlords, and builders for the creation of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, and other low-density housing; in existing neighbourhoods, on bus routes.

CREATING A TEAM APPROACH TO HOUSING: Identifying, promoting, and empowering “Social Entrepreneurship” through “Social Financialization” training and education programs. Social Service groups like Urban Indigenous Peoples, Not-for-Profit Corporations, Co-operative Housing Groups, Municipal Housing Authorities, etc. are expected to take the lead and challenge of creating Affordable, Non-Market Rentals. These massive Federal and Provincial Affordable Housing program dollars are targeted to the Social Service Groups, not the Private Sector. The Private Sector is NOT wanted in Affordable Housing, the Private Sector should NOT be in Affordable Housing, and the Private Sector does NOT want to be in Affordable Housing. 

MUNICIPALITIES ACCEPTING SYSTEMIC CHANGE: Through these massive Federal and Provincial Funding Programs the responsibility of city infrastructure development now reverts to the municipality rather than the housing developer. In-fill building using the existing infrastructure through urban blight removal, freeing up unused city properties, densification programs, etc. takes priority over new sub-division development. 

The creation of Affordable, Non-Market Rentals shifts to “Social Entrepreneurship” of Social Service groups and away from the Private Sector Developer.

Right now the number one economic developer opportunity for the City of Sault Ste. Marie is the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Housing. It’s a testament to the resilience of our City that after all the struggle, our City is ready to grow; however, who is going to provide the leadership of Urban Blight removal and creation of Affordable Housing?


Thank you, 

CBC Reports: Prime Minister Announcement 1.7128888

CBC Reports: Thunder Bay Housing Strategy 1.7048818

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