If Thunder Bay is going to meet its council-set goal of seeing 2,200 new housing units built by 2030, the city is going to have to do a lot more than count on hope, prayers and the private sector.
News reports suggest the city will be eligible for less than two million dollars over the next three years from the province’s Building Faster Fund. To date, no one on council has come up with an idea how that money might kick-start a building boom.
Two million doesn’t build a lot of housing on its own.
But the city can leverage that money to do a lot more than might seem possible.
Councillor Rajni Agarwal has publicly urged the private sector to saddle up its horse and apply for federal subsidies now available. The problem is the most likely outcome of that are proposals for building on the periphery. That’s where the easy money is. It’s also where the big developers own property. Urban infill only delays their opportunity to make big bucks selling their subdivisions. But building outside the Expressway is also going to cost taxpayers as they have to pony for even more services in rural areas that don’t pay for themselves.
If we are going to move the housing needle in this city without opening the floodgates to suburban sprawl, the city’s Realty Services Department is going to have to up its game.
What council needs to do is order Realty Services to dip into its development funds to buy up the oldest houses in the worst shape near the downtown cores. Those houses need to be torn down and the now vacant lots prepared for multi-unit apartment buildings. Council’s recent approval of a new zoning by-law makes that all possible. The city would recover its costs when the lots were sold to builders.
The track record of developers stepping up and building infill projects near the cores is not very good. The city could change that by doing the heavy lifting of creating vacant urban lots. Small builders who are now put off by all the paperwork and lot-preparation headaches would find urban vacant lots especially attractive.
The city’s planning department is currently preparing a land needs study and strategy. This study must include a recommendation to get the Realty Services Department to take the $600,0000 the province is offering over the next three years, buy and tear down our oldest and worst housing stock and start moving the needle on urban infill.