Gananoque council rejects Habitat for Humanity proposal on housing project

The lot at the corner of William and Arthur Streets, as seen by Google Street View in August of 2023.

Gananoque council has decided to take a different path in combating a shortage of affordable housing, rather than back a Habitat for Humanity proposal.

On Oct. 17, Habitat for Humanity Thousand Islands made a proposal to council to build five affordable freehold townhouses on the lot located at the southeast corner of William and Arthur Streets.

At a Nov. 7 meeting, a majority on council felt that plan does not go far enough.

Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable mortgages. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund, which is used to build more houses. In addition to mortgage payments, each homeowner invests hundreds of hours of their own labour into the building of their house and the houses of others.

However, town officials, looking at the municipal land inventory for surplus lands that might be available for development, have identified two properties, located on William Street (the parcel of land on which Habitat wants to build) and Birch Street, both of which were previously discussed by councils as options for residential development and specifically, affordable housing.

With that in mind, council decided to declare the subject parcels of land surplus to the municipality’s needs and issue a call for expressions of interest for both lots to the marketplace, to invite developers to submit proposals. Habitat for Humanity is able to submit its proposal to the town alongside other interested parties.

“(We’re ) offering it to the entire community, whether it be private developers, Habitat for Humanity or the town itself,” said Shellee Fournier, the town’s chief administrative officer. “The idea there is they can all submit their proposals and council can truly identify the best use for these parcels.”

It was noted to council that the fair market value of the William Street lot is $300,000. Staff believes the lot can easily accommodate 10 units (or more). So, they concluded, to proceed with the Habitat proposal of building only five units on this lot would not maximize the economic and social benefit for the town.

The fair market value of the Birch Street lot is $50,000-$75,000. The lot can accommodate up to 12 units. Again, from the town’s perspective, building only five units on this lot would not result in the best economic and social impact for the town.

“Of the three options, (seeking expressions of interest for both lots) is the one that provides the most options going forward for public engagement,” said Mayor John Beddows.

The decision to invite developers, instead of selling straight to Habitat for Humanity based on its proposal, did not sit well with Deputy Mayor Vicki Leakey and Coun. Anne-Marie Koiner, who were the only members of council to vote against this motion.

“(Habitat for Humanity) are ready to build,” said Koiner. “They’ve got all of their drawings done, they’ve got the backing, the financing. What I would want to see with an expression of interest is that we stop throwing around the word ‘affordable’ around without having something concrete. I do believe that what this town does need is developers who are going to be enthralled into building what we actually need. And what we need is not for people who have income of $60,000, $70,000. We need that one bedroom for the $39,000 or the $31,000. That’s what we need. We don’t have enough of that.”

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