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Guelph Affordable Housing

4 Councillors Voted Against Land Designation for Affordable Housing

A recent decision by Guelph’s city council has brought a developer’s plan to build hundreds of affordable homes in the city’s south end closer to realization.

In a special council meeting on December 5, which focused on reviewing potential changes to Guelph’s official plan, council voted to keep the high-density residential zoning for 280 Clair Rd. W. This property, adjacent to Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School, had its zoning changed from industrial to high-density residential by the province. Despite staff recommendations to revert these changes, council voted 9-4 to maintain them.

The primary motive for many council members to support this zoning was the plan for hundreds of affordable housing on the site.

Those voting against affordable housing were Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt, Ward 5 Councillors Leanne Caron, Cathy Downer, and Ward 2 resident Erin Caton.

John Farley, a development consultant with Home Opportunities, the non-profit developer behind the project, expressed to the council the need for affordable housing, saying, “I’m tired of seeing hardworking folks and their families being unable to own a home and live in the same city they’re employed.”

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Home Opportunities proposes to build 961 homes, with many priced below the typical Guelph market rate. The project includes assistance for down payments, repayable only when the house is resold. Mike Labbe, president and CEO of Home Opportunities, explained the community would be income-diverse, with a mix of market-rate and lower-cost housing.

The plan involves constructing 247 townhouses and 729 apartments across two buildings, with the potential for up to 20 storeys. Due to the scale and density of this project, public meetings will still be necessary for approval.

Labbe highlighted the importance of community engagement and stated that with collaborative efforts, occupancy could begin by 2026. The speed of construction is attributed to the use of prefabricated homes by the Guelph-based Kiwi Newton Group, which could significantly reduce construction costs.

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The project has gained support from major Guelph employers like Linamar. Jim Jarrell, the company’s president and COO, noted the challenge for many employees in affording local housing, often resulting in long commutes.

The non-profit’s model promises two-bedroom units at an average carrying cost below $1,400 per month, which is in line with the city’s affordable housing benchmark. Mayor Cam Guthrie expressed confidence in the project, saying, “I believe that what they’re saying will come to fruition.”

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Despite the public commitment to affordable housing, Krista Walkey, the city’s chief planner, cautioned that there is no guarantee the project will remain affordable, referencing past instances where developers changed course.

Some council members, like Coun. Phil Allt, voiced concerns over losing employment lands and the potential impact of increased housing near industrial sites.

The council also passed a motion encouraging Home Opportunities to submit a development application by February 2024 and for city staff to engage with the non-profit in the interim.

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