By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent is not playing around when it comes to affordable housing initiatives.
On Tuesday night, council held its third budget deliberation session, decreasing the proposed tax hike to 2.58 per cent.
The initial budget, which proposed a 3.96-per-cent increase, has seen cuts all around, but council is remaining strong when it comes to housing.
A motion to remove a housing services case manager position for $99,480, failed after South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson brought it to the table. Thompson said there were no “great places” to make cuts but cuts had to be made somewhere.
Ray Harper, director, Housing Services, said there’s a shortage of affordable housing in Chatham-Kent and market rents have increased significantly. In 2020, average market rent for a one-bedroom unit was $938, 48 per cent over 2015 rates, according to a report that went to council at their Monday night meeting.
Housing services has developed relationships with private landlords who offer affordable renters units through the municipal Rent Supplement program. Harper said that a case manager was essential for marketing and recruiting private landlords, as well as assisting the tenants in maintaining their units.
“It’s essential that we continue to build these relationships with our landlords and support these tenants to be successfully housed,” Harper said. “If we don’t support the landlords that are engaged in the rent supplement programs, well they’re all networked and they talk to other landlords. And that would be challenging to us to sustain … and to attract new landlords to participate in this.”
Chatham-Kent is also short staffed compared to neighbouring municipalities in this field, including the possible addition of the case manager, Harper added.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, employment and social services converted a portion of the John D. Bradley Convention Centre to a homeless shelter during the first several months of lockdown. They later shifted to using motels and hotels after the Stage 3 reopening allowed the convention centre to resume its normal operations.
Since closing the Bradley Centre, 185 individuals required emergency accommodations, April Rietdyk, general manager, Community Human Services, said at previous meetings.
Attempts to make cuts in housing also failed at previous deliberations. At the second deliberation, held last week, East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault brought forward a motion to remove $200,000 from the affordable housing base budget.
The motion did not pass. The funds will be used for future Requests for Proposals to develop affordable housing units.
Mayor Darrin Canniff also voiced support for maintaining the housing budget, stating it was “an investment in our community; this is not a cost.”
Taxes hike decreased to 2.58 per cent
Tuesday night’s budget cuts included the removal of a $475,000 incremental increase for the storm sewer lifecycle. A minimum amount of $300,000 was also allocated to that fund from the lifecycle asset management plan.
Lifecycle inflation was cut from 1.5 per cent to one per cent, at the request of mayor Darrin Canniff, saving taxpayers $293,000.
South Kent Coun. Clare Latimer successfully passed a motion requesting that one-time $100,000 funding for physician recruitment be changed to a two-year item for $200,000, funded from reserves.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman brought forward an unsuccessful motion requesting $3 million in one-time funding be made available from the future economic downturn reserves.