Challenge accepted, says St. John's mayor, as city steps up housing demands from federal fund

St. John's, N.L.  (Ted Dillon/CBC  - image credit)
St. John's, N.L. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
St. John's, N.L.
St. John's, N.L.

As the City of St. John's — and the rest of the country — struggle with housing shortages, the city is proposing to go after more federal funding to help kickstart building projects. (Ted Dillon/CBC )

The City of St. John's plans to go after a larger chunk of change from a federal fund earmarked to build more housing.

It's a direct response to Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser's letter to Mayor Danny Breen earlier this month, which said the city's initial proposal "falls short of the ambition I am hoping to see."

At the time the city applied for about $2.8 million to build only 91 housing units. On Tuesday, the city tabled an amended plan that aims to grab just over $18.5 million from the $4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund, run by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

"Our staff went back over the last month and reevaluated the opportunities with the new incentives that were in place from the federal and provincial [governments] and you see the new application that we presented today," said Coun. Ron Ellsworth, the city's lead on housing.

The city's plan jumps from the 91 units it initially planned for to 475 in the new application, built over a three-year period.

"Challenge accepted," said Breen while addressing council during Tuesday's public meeting.

Those units could range from multiplexes to tiny homes and backyard suites, depending on the neighbourhood.

The city won't be building those units itself. Rather, the application will open up money for developers and community groups to dig in to address the ongoing housing crisis.

Coun. Ron Ellsworth says city staff revisited its proposal for federal funding that is earmarked to accelerate new housing builds.
Coun. Ron Ellsworth says city staff revisited its proposal for federal funding that is earmarked to accelerate new housing builds.

Coun. Ron Ellsworth says city staff revisited its proposal for federal funding that is earmarked to accelerate new housing builds. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"We're looking at moving some of the housing continuums from a discretionary use to a permitted use, and all that means is that shortens the timeframe for people to get lumber in the ground and get units built," Ellsworth said.

"People who genuinely want to take this and move it forward, we're here to work with them or partner with them to release the funds identified under the initiatives that are there."

Tent encampments have popped up in two locations in the Newfoundland and Labrador's capital city this month: one at Confederation Hill and another behind Colonial Building in Bannerman Park.

But for those who may be in need of housing immediately, this funding application — and its contents — won't happen overnight.

"We are looking for a very quick turnaround from the federal government," Ellsworth said.

"We have a lot of work to do but we are up for the challenge and it's through partnerships with the municipal, provincial and federal governments working in alignment on solving this problem."

In total the city laid out nine areas where it wants the money to go.

A "big one," Ellsworth said, is allowing more density across the city.

That includes adding backyard suites as a permitted use in residential zones, increasing as-of-right development approvals for fourplexes, tiny homes, microunits, and adding those uses to more residential zones.

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