Statement from a Prospective Builder:
I am responding to your article about our proposed affordable housing project and the mayor’s many confusions. First of all, I apologize. Based on the mayor’s level of misunderstanding, it would seem that I am a particularly poor communicator. So, let me try, again, to provide some needed clarity and state my perspective clearly.
CANADIAN MORTGAGE AND HOUSING – CMHC has funding available to support BELOW market rental accommodation. According to them, affordable rents are those at 20% below the rental market. The demand for this program across Canada has been overwhelming. I last checked a month ago. They have over 850 below-market project applications. And unlike the current Mayor of High River, 850ish communities are eager to seek how they can use this program to assist the disadvantaged.
Because of the strong response, but in contrast to recent federal election claims, the demand for CHMC funds currently far exceeds the supply. And, because their funds are constrained, CMHC has told applicants in smaller Canadian communities like High River that only a tri-party agreement would ensure a positive review of an application.
Believing our efforts, in concert with the Town and CMHC, is a win for High River; we have been trying to communicate the benefits to the council and the mayor for two years. All, to no avail. It is clear from the mayor’s recent comments that helping those in need of support does not fit his politics. So 20 families that could be already be living in a new supportive development- had council Saturday down with us and helped us figure this out have been sidelined.
Though after 2 years of seeking to find a path that helps the residents of High River, and though I am disinclined to think it true – even if we presumed that he is not taking this stand to keep disadvantaged people out of High River, I could only then conclude he has not bothered to examine the facts.
The mayor’s financial analysis is just plain wrong. If our proposal were reviewed by an expert not tied to the mayor’s politics, they would conclude that it is not the numbers or the risk to the Town that is holding the mayor back. Rather he seems only driven by a “let those in need help themselves” mentality.
This is my sad conclusion because we have made many proposals and instead of coming alongside and saying how can we take your ideas and work this out, he has never once said, “here s something we can work with if we tweak this; provide that”…. It is just always no. Sadly, his brick wall of disinterest is solid.
He claims there is no need. However, the Town has hired Westwinds – who manages the building we developed [and is fully occupied], on the same site as this proposal – to undertake a demand study. Informally Westhills has reported to me – I checked several times – that over 40 singles and couples, families in High River, need affordable accommodation of the type we are proposing.
However, the Town only kicks the can down the road. Though they hired Westwinds to do a market study, they gave Westhills a post-election report date to ensure this issue can be ignored during these municipal elections.
Now to the numbers. CMHC support provides the only path for this project or any affordable project. It is a simple question: how else, without the support, can anyone build a project at market costs and then rent the units below market. In whose world does that make sense?
The support of CMHC is provided because that is the only way these projects can be developed. Without their support and the support of the Town, the numbers do not work. A tri-party agreement is required. All three parties must help to make these kinds of projects a reality.
If the mayor had taken the time to truly look beyond his prejudices, he would see that affordable rental projects require support without exception. Often, like in the project proposed in Okotoks, the Municipality is required to provide free land. Calgary even set up a special company to develop affordable housing, which is faltering because of a shortage of free land.
Here we have the land, so the requested support is property tax relief from the Town, a low-interest mortgage provided by CMHC, and a developer’s larger than a normal financial investment. But, without the third leg in the stool – support of the Town, as required by CMHC- there will be no supportive housing in the High River.
And the need is real: for those seniors who need to downsize because their partner has died or need to live near their infirmed spouse; or the local low-income worker who needs more than a substandard basement suite; or the single parent needing a safe place after a breakup. All sad situations that compassionate towns normally seek to support.
I reach these sad conclusions because if the mayor claims he is opposed to supporting our project, he has had more than enough time to propose one to be developed by the Town.
A chuckle when I hear the mayor stand on his soap-box and proclaim he is protecting the tax-payers in High River from private enterprise, who should go it alone. I would happily have gone alone and not be beholding to such an insensitive reaction. But it is just not possible.
The mayor claims that our request will cost the Town $216,000. A totally bogus claim. Yes, we need a 10-year tax abatement on only the Town’s tax portion – we will still be able to afford the school taxes we will pay – but there will be taxes for the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years after that. And anyway, when the Town raised the question of a loss of revenue, we said O.K., we would prepay the current taxes for the bareland for the next ten years. The $216 number does not mean a loss of revenues because there is no project and no taxes anyway without the Town’s support.
A combination of covid and a sad Alberta economy also means that this project requires CMHC support. I would not develop this if I did not already own the land. And, in contrast to the mayor’s claims, there is not a developer who would buy the land at market price and develop this project. The returns are too dismal.
I am only able to do this because I am prepared to, as it were, kick the financial can down the road. And, I am trying – though not if the current mayor gets re-elected- to “give back” to the residents of High River and some other communities where we have developed over the years. Over the last 35 years, we have done several projects in High River and many throughout Alberta. And though I will never see a return on these “give-back” projects in my lifetime, the long-term benefit for the Towns where we did projects that supported Sitefinders is pleasing to me.
As I often tell others, my best character quality is my persistence. If High River replaces the mayor, I will persist and work as colleagues to develop this project, but otherwise, I will be forced to leave the development of my two out-parcels to a more compassionate Council.
If the current mayor is re-elected, I promise that prudence demands that I dust off my shoes and turn my back on your Town. That would be sad for me and for those who could benefit from our efforts.
Allan Matthews, President
Broker* + Developer
Sitefinders Real Estate Services Inc.
- 403 802 5289
- 604 200 8850
The Sitefinders Group of Companies
*licensed in Alberta