City doing a good job on affordable housing

This space is usually reserved for my critique of what the city is doing, but when it comes to affordable housing, I find it hard to criticize our city government. Since 2007, when the city struck the Affordable Housing Action Committee (AHAC) and made a commitment to addressing the issue, they have been tackling it head on.

In December 2008, the AHAC hosted an Affordable Housing Public Forum where the main role of the city was identified as leadership—to help the people and organizations involved reach the solutions.

During the last election, in September 2009, the St. John’s Housing and Homelessness Network solicited candidates to sign and support four specific “housing actions”—which all present councillors have done.

The first action was to recognize that there’s a problem, and to work with community, government, and private partners to fix it.

The second action was to create a dedicated staff position to address affordable housing for the city. At the March 16th meeting of council, they approved this position, and hope to hire someone soon.

The third action is to commit to making a formal policy to help the city plan around the issue. There has been no formal commitment in council to do so, but we can hope that with the new staff member the AHAC will make this a priority.

The fourth action is a big one, but what I consider to be the most important: to implement a “one in ten” affordable housing plan. The idea is exactly how it sounds—one out of every ten units developed in the city would be affordable housing.

Another great initiative came from Danny Breen on March 16th when he moved to rename the Affordable Housing Action Committee to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Affordable Housing, which means the committee will now report directly to council. Before it was a sub-committee of the Planning and Housing committee.

They’ve done well, but I think the real test of St. John’s commitment to the issue will be whether or not they take the “one in ten” initiative seriously. A commitment to make one new house out of every ten affordable housing is a serious step, and will not happen without the firm backing of council, the public, developers, and all levels of government.

They have all the people sitting around the table, and have done everything right up until now. Let’s hope the first recommendation of the committee is to fulfill the commitment council made during the election.

10 comments

New burger joint to open in former Mexicali Rosa’s spot on George. Renos look well underway.

New burger joint to open in former Mexicali Rosa’s spot on George. Renos look well underway. taken with Instagram

23 May 2013

  1. unclerodsknife · May 23, 2013

    Andrew, I believe that you are currently vying for a job in the Affordable Housing position at City Hall. It seeems highly suspect that you usually critical (and well-spoken) analysis of political goings-on has shifted so immediately to something that sounds like platform-building in a field that involves you so closely.

    If I am incorrect, and you are not vying for this position, I apologize. I also acknowledge that the city HAS done some great things for affordable housing. However, your credibility (as with anybody in the nascent stages of a political career) takes a hit each time things shift to personal agendas. I hope that you keep developing your ideas and critiques, but please don’t use a valuable editorial platform inappropriately.

  2. Andrew Harvey · May 23, 2013

    Hey there,
    As I stated at the beginning of my article, I usually am critical of things that happen at city hall, but in this case, I find it hard to, and always have.
    When running for ward 2 in the last election, in the Election Questionnaire (found at http://thescope.ca/2009/09/15/election-questionnaire-ward-2), in response to the question:
    What has been the present council’s biggest achievement?

    I responded:
    “I think that the steps taken by the present council to actively engage community groups and stakeholders in Affordable Housing have been their greatest achievement. These steps have brought all the right people together to enable them to identify, and discuss the many problems with affordable housing in St. John’s.
    Now we must create real, concrete steps towards solving the problems which have been identified. This needs to translate into immediate, short, and long-term building of the affordable housing capacity here in St. John’s.”

    This is hardly an immediate shift to platform building. I have felt for a long time that the city has been doing a good job on affordable housing.

    As far as the timing of this, these recent developments in affordable housing were voted on at the last council meeting, and were thus timely, and appropriate to discuss.

    I am applying for the position, which I even stated in response to someones comment on my liveblog. However, I am not going to let my position as someone who covers municipal issues stop me from applying for a job, as much as I am not going to let a job I am applying for stop me from covering municipal issues.

    In my article, I write about what I feel are the most important issues happening in city council. As someone who is involved in these issues, it is inevitable that I will be involved in some of what I write about. My article is opinion-based, and I would like to think my bias is obvious. I try to encourage debate about all of the issues I put forward by stating my own opinion, hoping that people will agree or disagree, and a discussion will ensue.

    I am sorry that you feel that I am using my platform for my own personal agenda, but I must disagree with you, and hope that this response will provide some explanation to my reasoning.

  3. Anon · May 23, 2013

    Harvey, it really ain’t THAT hard to find a problem with our city’s subsidized housing. I mean COME ON.

    Many of the current units in town are aging and in various states of disrepair. Council’s efforts to fix these problems, in the literal sense, has been…lacking.

    It’s all well and nice (really, it is) to make grand plans to house everyone in our city who is in need of a roof, but we have to keep in mind our current housing developments, and the needs & rights of people within them.

  4. Anon · May 23, 2013

    Also, there’s a fairly simple way to try and detect any serious bias on Harvey’s part: if he happens to be turned down for the position, watch his tone on the subject of affordable housing, and specifically his attitude towards AHAC. Any changes for the worse would be enough to raise suspicions.

    Simple innit? Clear as treacle.

  5. Andrew Harvey · May 23, 2013

    To make something clear, the vast majority of affordable housing units in St. John’s are owned by NL Housing, which is provincial jurisdiction. The city owns a few affordable housing units, I don’t know the exact number, but I think it is something under 50. The city got out of the business of actively building their own affordable housing thirty years ago, and the units they have are simply what is left over from then.

    The province could easily be criticized for allowing the conditions which exist in many of their units, but I don’t think the same criticism would be fair for the city.

    The city’s main role in affordable housing is building partnerships between not-for-profit organizations and community groups, which have the need for housing, and provincial and federal governments and the private sector, which have the monetary resources to build the affordable housing capacity we need in this city.

    Also, Anon, my position on the subject of affordable housing will be determined by the steps taken by the city, not the outcome of any job competition.

    I am also glad that this issue was raised when it was. I am an honest person, and stand by the things I say and do. Thank you to unclerodsknife for bringing it up. People should be called on things such as this if you feel there is any bias. This is the only way an open discussion can take place.

  6. unclerodsknife · May 23, 2013

    Andrew, thanks for being clear on the issue. I think that disclosure is very important, and appreciate the irony of the fact that I am posting with an alias :)

  7. Anonymous · May 23, 2013

    It’s funny how much easier it is to find “affordable” housing when one can be bothered to find themselves a job, even if it’s minimum wage. When I’m driving to work and I see my tax dollars being spent on renovating and maintaining NL Housing units, so that folks on welfare can live in homes that are better than mine, at least I can take comfort in knowing that these projects are providing work for the construction crews and maintenance people.

  8. Andrew Harvey · May 23, 2013

    I am not sure exactly what you (anonymous) are referring to when you say that it is “easier” to find affordable housing. Easier than what? There are people who are on waitlists for NL Housing that are forced to live in dangerously inadequate properties. Do these people have an “easier” time finding accommodations?

    If you are fortunate enough to make enough to pay in taxes, I sincerely hope it stays that way for you, and you are never in a position that you need to avail of affordable housing. If for some reason you ever do NEED affordable housing, I hope that there is an adequate supply of it, so that you may use it.

    Supporting affordable housing is about helping those who need it most. To classify those that live in affordable housing as “folks on welfare” is unfair and prejudice.

    If you have an opinion on how to improve the current system, or see ways in which we can improve it, I would love to hear it. I am frustrated by those who don’t appear to understand the issues they speak about in a negative light.

  9. Jack · May 23, 2013

    Over the past few days now I have seen a couple of articles in the media regarding the City’s involvement in affordable housing (new units for Pleasantville) and I feel compelled to question why the City is spending scarce tax dollars on such initiatives. Let’s not forget that they just delayed the recycling program because of scarce funds.

    My simple view of it is that the City should in NO way be a landlord, however they can still be involved through the planning department in developing policies that would provide for a certain level of affordable housing to be funded and run by NGOs or the Provincial Government itself. I would even go as far as to say there could be tax concessions for non profit housing organizations. (I know, negative tax revenue but at least not a direct expenditure).

    As for hiring additional staff members for the “Mayor’s Advisory Committee on affordable housing” (what was wrong with the previous name? Sounds like a bit of “sucking up” going on) I think this is another waste of money, roll it into the planning department. From what I’ve seen staff is under-worked and overpaid as it is already. But I don’t want to make this personal.

    As for the 1 in 10 initiative I think it is an honorable goal however it may be a little optimistic

  10. Terry · May 23, 2013

    At last! Someone with the insight to solve the poberlm!