Corp Comm Connects

Housing options in Barrie Improving Affordability

June 30, 2015
Leah Wong

Simcoe County is seeking to work with its partner municipalities, including the City of Barrie, to increase the availability of affordable housing to meet the diverse needs of its population.

Simcoe warden Gerry Marshall told Barrie council the county is trying to provide a range of options along the housing continuum from social housing to affordable ownership opportunities. At its June 22 meeting Marshall asked Barrie council to share city data about housing programs and to direct city staff to collaborate with the county on improving affordability options.

“For us to work county-wide we really have to understand what is happening in each community,” said Marshall.

As the county is the consolidated municipal service manager for the region, it is required to provide services related to social housing and homelessness to its member municipalities and the single-tier cities of Barrie and Orillia. The county recognizes the varying needs among the local municipalities and understands that solutions must be tailored to meet these specific needs.

The county is implementing its 10-Year Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention Strategy, which was approved by council in January 2014. Barrie approved its own affordable housing strategy in February 2015.

“This is an area where the county has really driven the agenda and it’s a bold strategy,” Barrie mayor Jeff Lehman told council.

Simcoe social and community services general manager Terry Talon told council the county has set targets to meet the needs of Barrie residents, but it will require a range of programs and initiatives to meet these objectives.

Talon said the county’s preliminary estimate indicates that Barrie will need 840 additional units of affordable housing over the next 10 years to improve its ability to meet community needs. The county presently manages 2,038 social housing units in Barrie.

Presently almost a third of Barrie households spend 30 per cent or more of their income on shelter costs and 8 per cent live in either unsuitable housing—units with too few bedrooms for the household composition—or housing in need of significant repairs.

The county’s proposed targets for Barrie indicate how many units are needed for people with different income thresholds, rent-geared-to-income units and affordable home ownership programs.

A number of affordable housing programs already exist in Barrie, which is why the county is seeking the city’s input on its affordable housing priorities.

“Our staff is very impressed with the number of initiatives the City of Barrie is looking at,” said Talon.

Barrie is one of the municipalities that is in compliance with provincial policy and recognizes secondary suites through its official plan and zoning by-law. Through the Ontario Renovates program homeowners can apply, through the county, for financial assistance to add a secondary suite. The program also helps individuals whose homes have accessibility challenges.

Talon said in the future the city could also work with the private sector to encourage developers to plan for secondary suites when new subdivisions are being developed. Secondary suites are a way to help make home ownership affordable for certain buyers, and bring more affordable rental options to the market.

Barrie Ward 9 councillor Sergio Morales said in his ward, which contains a lot of the greenfield annexed land from Innisfil, there will be opportunities over the next 20 years to add more affordable housing options. Given the scale of development that will be happening in the area he said there is an opportunity to work with developers upfront.

In addition to encouraging secondary suites, Talon said there are tools in the strategy to encourage multi-residential rental development. Development charge relief, property tax differential relief and lower parking requirements are incentives for developers to invest in multi-residential projects.

Barrie already has one tool in place. It has eliminated the difference between multi-residential and residential property tax rates. Its tax rates for both property types was around 1.31 per cent in 2014.

“Barrie has the same tax rate, which is rare. [The difference] used to be a penalty, in a way, for the development of multi-residential,” said Lehman.

As the county is developing more affordable housing, Talon said it’s important to keep in mind the needs of all residents.

“Even as we’re developing affordable housing it’s still not affordable for those most in need, so we’ll probably always have to provide a supplement to those most in need,” said Talon.

City of Barrie 2024 Affordable Housing Targets
Need by Income Threshold

Total: 840 units