Nelson council decided Monday night that it would not support SHARE Housing Initiative’s request for up to $700,000 in financial and non-financial support for its proposed downtown 42-unit affordable housing project.
SHARE’s request was that the city waive a variety of development permits, building permits, and other fees that, according to city management staff, would have amounted to about $350,000. The SHARE initiative is a project of Kootenay Christian Fellowship.
Council was concerned that it doesn’t have policies on how to give incentives to affordable housing projects, and the requested support would create an uneven playing field between the SHARE project and Nelson CARES’ plan to renovate an old motel on Nelson Ave. to create 39 residential units.
Both projects will apply to BC Housing for significant funding, perhaps in competition with each other. Nelson council has written letters of support-in-principle for both projects. The Nelson CARES project didn’t ask council for financial assistance.
Pastor Jim Reimer, the main driver of the SHARE initiative, told the Star after the meeting that he didn’t understand the last-minute need for policies.
“Council has known about this project for two years. There have been public meetings, discussions at council, and meetings with their staff. They have had lots of opportunity to decide how to support this, if they wanted to.”
City staff thought council would be able to support two minor parts of SHARE’s request, however, and recommended council approve those Monday.
The first was granting the use of city property near the proposed building to be used as a fire access lane and the second was removing two parking spaces on Falls St. to allow that fire access.
Councillor Michael Dailly objected, saying that if council approved this, it might again appear to be playing favourites. After some discussion, council decided not to decide, and the motions about the fire lane and parking stalls were withdrawn.
Council passed a motion to direct staff to undertake further policy work into whether, and how, to give incentives to support affordable housing. Councillor Janice Morrison voted against this, saying planning staff have enough to do already.
Reimer, in a Facebook post following the meeting, quoted here with his permission, wrote, “Today I am left wondering just what the City of Nelson elected officials meant when they say they support social housing. Six out of the seven ran on the platform to work towards affordable rental housing in Nelson. Last night they had an opportunity to demonstrate on what they were elected on and show leadership in the rental market sector. Instead they chose to defer it back to staff to write policy on how to support affordable housing.
“So I am wondering what exactly do the city councillors have in mind when they say they want to demonstrate (what they have stated is their) ‘deep level of commitment’ to affordable housing?”
A staff report that outlines some of city hall’s uncertainties surrounding many of the fees SHARE wished to have waived is attached below.