Supporting Affordable Housing

A little noticed but important milestone was reached in Barrie back on April 29th.  Council approved the 2013 tax ratios.  Now, this is  a topic that could put even the most dedicated municipal watcher to sleep.  But buried in the six decimal points of the tax categories was an accomplishment many years in the making.

For decades, Barrie has had a higher tax rate for multi-residential buildings than for all other residents buildings.  To be honest I am not sure why that was the case, but I suspect back in the day there was some notion that apartments required more services than single detached residential development, or perhaps it was an attempt to put a higher tax on “luxury” apartments.  But that’s not how things turned out, because with the arrival of condominium developments (some of which are very high value), most apartment buildings ended up being taxed at the “other” residential rate – the only buildings left in the multi-residential class were rental apartments.  This is where most affordable housing units (market and subsidized) were classified.   So affordable housing providers were paying more tax than all other kids of residential development.

Realizing this several years ago, Barrie set out to slowly lower the multi-res tax ratio so that it would be the same as all other residential development.  This took several years, but on April 29th of this year, Council approved a 1 to 1 ratio – finishing the process of removing this barrier to affordable housing.

It may not sound like much.  And certainly, there’s a lot more that needs to be done to help lower the massive waiting lists for supportive housing in our area.  But it’s something, and for someone thinking of building an affordable housing rental building, it’s a big deal.  The difference is many thousands of dollars a year, which (one hopes) will translate to at least a little relief on rent, making rental housing a little more affordable, and possibly encouraging a little more development of new rental units.

This is not something I would cheer to the rafters – Barrie is late to this , many other cities our size have already done this (although Toronto’s multi-res rate is sky-high compared to all other residential).  But these unnoticed little steps can make a big difference.  I hope this one will.