Municipal right to acquire considered as part of affordable housing response


The “right of first refusal” stems from a 2016 agreement with Quebec which allows Montreal to identify places where it wishes to create social housing, as well as libraries, parks and other public goods, and to notify landowners in these areas.

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In September 2020, Montreal city officials celebrated the purchase for $ 6.5 million of a vacant six-story building called Plaza Hutchinson, located next to a metro station in the Park Extension district, a point hot from gentrification.

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The plan for the property was 40 social housing units, and its purchase involved the first deployment of a new municipal power – “right of first refusal” or right of first refusal – to create affordable housing.

The right stems from a 2016 agreement with the province and allows Montreal to identify places where it wishes to create social housing, as well as libraries, parks and other public property, and to notify landowners in these areas.

If a landlord decides to sell within the next 10 years and accepts an offer to buy, then the city decides whether it wants to buy a property on those terms. Or the owner can try to negotiate a price with the city before going to the market.

Earlier this year, and four months after declaring a housing emergency, another Quebec municipality decided it wanted its own right of first refusal.

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Maude Marquis-Bissonnette, now mayoral candidate, was the Gatineau councilor who sponsored the council's pre-emptive right proposal.
Maude Marquis-Bissonnette, now mayoral candidate, was the Gatineau councilor who sponsored the council’s pre-emptive right proposal. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Gatineau’s council voted in January – unanimously, Le Droit reported – to ask the Quebec government to accede to the request. And, if so, Gatineau’s future could include announcements like the one made at Parc Extension. (Meanwhile, that project has stalled, CBC reported, awaiting funding for its development.)

“There is a housing crisis that we are now facing in Gatineau. I believe you have a similar situation in Ottawa, but we are looking very (a lot) for ways to reduce this housing crisis, the impact on citizens here, ”said Maude Marquis-Bissonnette, the advisor who sponsored the proposal. pre-emptive right. on the board and is now a candidate for mayor.

The ball is still in Quebec’s court, but their response has been positive, said Marquis-Bissonnette, so she hopes Gatineau will receive this tool. .

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His party, and that of outgoing mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who is not running again, have included the right of first refusal in their platform, considering its use to expand affordable and community housing in Gatineau, as well as green spaces.

Armelle Gray Tohouegnon, general manager of an Outaouais support network for non-profit housing organizations, believes that the right of first refusal would help the City to fill the local shortage of affordable housing.

Recently, she said, several “magnificent projects” were unable to obtain funding through the Federal Quick Housing Initiative due to a lack of available land.

The city faces a ‘ unprecedented crisis, ”according to Tohouegnon, with a layer upon a layer of contributing factors, including two floods that have hit Gatineau in recent years, low levels of investment in community housing, soaring house prices which keep people on rentals and renovations.

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The state of housing in Ottawa also has a direct impact on the Gatineau market. In its 2020 rental market report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation noted an 18% increase in the number of people who moved from Ontario to Quebec, concluding that it is likely that Ottawa households have chosen to move to the Gatineau area in greater numbers than usual. due to its greater accessibility, increasing the number of potential tenants.

Somerset County.  Catherine McKenney says the strategic acquisition is a way to address the loss of affordable units in the private market.
Somerset County. Catherine McKenney says the strategic acquisition is a way to address the loss of affordable units in the private market. Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

Apart from the Quebec concept of pre-emption right, the strategic acquisition has a promoter within the liaison officer for housing and homelessness of the Ottawa city council, Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney. It’s a way to address the loss of affordable units in the private market, explained McKenney, whose data previously showed they were disappearing in numbers significantly outpacing the creation of new affordable housing.

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Suppose a landlord decides to get rid of a small apartment building, built decades ago and in need of improvement, where tenants pay modest rents. If another private sector owner acquires the apartment, “it will most likely become unaffordable,” McKenney said. “They’re going to move in, they’re going to fix it, and they’re going to raise the rent.”

Imagine, then, that a local non-profit housing provider could access funding to purchase the building. They’re doing upgrades, but it’s still affordable, McKenney said.

The city’s 10-year housing and homelessness plan includes a fund to help the nonprofit sector acquire strategic affordable housing assets. It’s a good thing to have, says the advisor, but the budget is limited.

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McKenney and Steve Pomeroy, housing policy consultant and senior researcher at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Carleton University, see a role for the federal government in significantly building acquisition capacity.

Pomeroy says he has spoken with CMHC and the federal minister about creating a funding stream in the National Housing Strategy that would provide money to nonprofits to purchase private rental properties.

Organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ACORN Canada launched similar proposals during the fall federal election campaign. An “initial capitalization” of $ 585 million would support the acquisition of 10,000 low-rental housing units by the community housing sector, FCM said.

With files from the Montreal Gazette

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