July 21, 2024

Housing Finance Development

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‘We’re in a housing crisis’: Sudbury & Sault councils tackle controversial development, ‘strong mayor’ powers

The housing crisis is dominating the discussion at city councils in northeastern Ontario, including the province’s plan to give mayors more power in exchange for getting more houses built. 

Greater Sudbury city council did not discuss a report on the “strong mayor” powers Tuesday night, but did have Round 2 of a debate over a controversial six-storey 150-unit retirement home proposed for the city’s south end. 

It narrowly passed a vote at the planning committee a few weeks ago, but Deb McIntosh, the councillor for the area, tried to get council to cut it down to four storeys, which was the original recommendation from the city planners. 

“This is not about not being open for business. This is not about nimbyism. It’s about respect for the city’s approved official plan and the overall built form of our community,” McIntosh told council Tuesday.

But city Coun. Pauline Fortin said the need to ease the city’s housing crisis trumps neighbourhood concerns.

“We do not have a traffic crisis. We do not have a noise crisis. We do not have a shadow crisis. No children will be harmed by a seniors home being built,” Fortin said. 

In the end, council gave the green light to the development, although the decision could still be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal. 

“We’re in a housing crisis. We need to support these initiatives and we don’t exactly have a whole lot of people with lots of money banging on our door to do stuff here,” said Coun. Natalie Labbée.

“And then have that word of mouth spread across the province or broader, ‘Don’t go to Sudbury. They’re just going to say no to your project.'”

A large wall with the words 'Sault Ste. Marie' and the city's corporate logo
Sault Ste. Marie city council is hopeful it will be able to access the province’s $1.2=billion Building Faster Fund, without actually using the new ‘strong mayor’ powers that come with it. (Erik White/CBC )

The strong mayor powers promised by the province in exchange for an increase in housing construction was discussed at length in Sault Ste. Marie Tuesday night. 

Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said his “preference” was to opt in and still have access to the province’s $1.2-billion Building Faster Fund, without actually using the new powers”I have no interest in.”

Those include the ability of the mayor to veto certain bylaws, direct senior staff, and fire or hire the chief administrative officer. 

“Wading into that has fraught history in our community and I don’t intend to step into that,” Shoemaker said, referring to the controversy in the early 1990s when the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie resigned and quickly moved into the CAO’s job.

“Whatever can be delegated back, will be delegated back,” Shoemaker told council Tuesday.

“The same processes we used yesterday will be happening tomorrow.”

Shoemaker said he finds the province’s plan to connect these powers with the building of housing “makes little sense” and city Coun. Luke Dufour theorized it’s likely so Queen’s Park can “blame” cities when housing remains expensive and tough to find. 

“I really don’t think many people, quite frankly, do see a link between strong mayor powers and building more houses, because mayors don’t build houses. It’s not that complicated,” said Dufour.

A more detailed report on the strong mayor powers and the housing targets is expected to come before Sault Ste. Marie city council later this month.

North Bay city council voted earlier this month to accept the target of 1,000 new housing starts before 2031, while there is no word yet on whether Greater Sudbury will opt into the provincial housing plan before the Oct. 15 deadline.