City to focus on Hilliard and Herbert Street properties in first phase of PHC redevelopment project

Plus: More reporting from the Peterborough Housing Corporation’s September board meeting

Peterborough Currents attended the September 15, 2021 board meeting of the Peterborough Housing Corporation (PHC). The board’s composition was recently overhauled after city council voted this summer to oust the entire previous membership and replace them with members of council. Currently, the board consists of Mayor Diane Therrien and Councillors Keith Riel, Henry Clarke, Dean Pappas and Andrew Beamer. Therrien did not attend the September meeting but the other four did.

In this article, we run through the key points that were discussed at the meeting. This is the first PHC board meeting Peterborough Currents has attended. If you find this report useful, let us know, and we’ll keep attending!

City to focus on Hilliard and Herbert Street properties in first phase of PHC redevelopment project

The City will prioritize two properties on Hilliard Street and one on Herbert Street in the first phase of its plan to redevelop and intensify several of the Peterborough Housing Corporation’s aging social housing buildings.

The Peterborough Housing Corporation (PHC) has had a plan to redevelop six of its properties in the works for years. But the plan was first made public in February, when city council voted to form a new municipally-owned corporation to take ownership of the properties and to lead the project instead of the PHC.

The six properties identified for intensification currently comprise 311 social housing units. If fully realized, the plan could see more than 1,000 new housing units built in addition to replacing the social housing units.

But the City will focus on just three properties for now. Sheldon Laidman, commissioner of community services, confirmed the intention to break the project into phases and prioritize 999 Hilliard Street, 1190 Hilliard Street and 117 Herbert Street at the PHC’s board meeting on September 15. “Staff believe it to be prudent to focus on Phase 1 as the initial project to ensure it can be done in a timely manner,” Laidman wrote to the board in a memo.

No indication was given of when the future phases of the project might be pursued. The board approved the idea of only focusing on the first three sites for now.

Altogether, these three properties currently comprise 78 units of social housing. While the numbers might change in the coming months, the PHC’s original plan had called for replacing those 78 units and building an additional 374 affordable units and 64 market-rate units on the three sites, Laidman’s memo stated.

Also at the September board meeting, and at the request of Commissioner Laidman, the PHC board expressed support for striking a steering committee to lead the redevelopment. 

The new steering committee will be composed of three senior staff from the PHC and three staff from the City. Its first order of business, according to Laidman’s memo, will be to hire architectural and planning consultants “to determine the density, layout, and site plan implications on each site.”

In addition, the committee will also have to “determine how to ensure the project can meet its affordability housing goals but also be financially sustainable,” the memo stated. 

Due to the complexity of the preparations and the urgent need for housing, the steering committee’s work will get started even before the new municipal corporation is formally established, the memo stated.

A report on projected unit counts, affordability levels, project phasing, and tenant relocation strategies will come to city council before a final funding application to the National Housing Co-Investment Fund is submitted. 

Laidman has previously expressed to Peterborough Currents that the goal is to submit a funding application to the Co-Investment Fund in winter/spring of 2022.

Preparing for the expiry of provincial and federal rent supplement programs

Two funding programs for rent-geared-to-income subsidies will expire in the coming years, and the City, which administers the programs along with the PHC, is beginning to plan for how to ensure households who rely on these subsidies don’t lose their housing support should the funding not be renewed.

The provincially-funded Strong Communities Rent Supplement currently supports about 60 households in Peterborough with subsidies, according to the City’s 2021 draft budget. It expires in 2023.

The federally-funded Commercial Rent Supplement program currently supports about 165 local households, according to the budget, and its federal funding expires in 2025.

Both rent supplements are tied to particular units in the private market, with landlords signing agreements with the PHC and then receiving a portion of the rent paid directly to them from the PHC instead of from the tenant.

While the future of these programs is uncertain, the City’s housing manager, Rebecca Morgan Quin, noted at the meeting that the municipality recently received its updated allocations for the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) — a new rent supplement funded jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

The City will soon receive as many as five times more supplements from the program as it previously has, Morgan Quin said. “It’s a substantial increase.”

As a result, Morgan Quin said she expects the province will allow the Strong Communities funding to expire, and direct municipalities to use the COHB to support households whose rent used to be covered by that program. 

Morgan Quin noted that the biggest difference between the Commercial and Strong Communities rent supplement programs and the COHB is that the COHB is portable — tenants who receive it can choose to move from one unit to another and take their subsidy with them.

But she also pointed out one shortcoming of the COHB: since it requires recipients to submit their tax returns and renew their application each year, it hasn’t proven a good fit for those who are most vulnerable and difficult to house in our community, she said. 

Still, the COHB will likely be a good fit for the households currently using the Strong Communities and Commercial rent supplement programs, she said. 

Meanwhile, the PHC’s director of corporate services, Sondra Fitzgerald, explained that over the last 20 years or so, some landlords have chosen to end their agreements with the PHC, and that the Commercial Rent Supplement program has been underspent and grown a $1.8 million reserve in that time.

In a letter presented to the board, Morgan Quin advised the PHC that the City will be decreasing its 2022 rent supplement funding to the PHC by $200,000, and that the PHC should plan to make an equivalent draw on the reserve fund to make up for it. 

In anticipation of all these changes, Morgan Quin also advised the PHC to stop taking on any new landlords, properties or funded clients under the existing rent supplement agreements going forward.

Morgan Quin said that the City will carry out an operational review of all rent supplement programs in early 2022. 

Tenant complaint process

Morgan Quin stated that while the City doesn’t want to get involved in disputes between tenants and landlords, it would like to be kept apprised of PHC tenant complaints regarding unit maintenance and staff behaviour so that the City can be sure the complaints are being resolved. 

In response, Coun. Riel asked whether the PHC might consider setting up a tenants’ committee, perhaps with one representative from each building, which could formally bring concerns forward to the PHC board.

PHC’s director of operations, Travis Doak, said tenants’ associations are typically formed at the initiative of tenants, but that he would look into how the PHC might facilitate such a committee and whether other social housing providers do anything similar.

Flood at 555 Bonaccord

A July 1st flood at PHC’s Bonaccord Street property impacted tenants in eight units, including participants in the Homeward Bound program, Doak stated. While two units were cleared for reentry later that day, tenants from the other six units were displaced for about a month while repairs were made. They have now moved back in, Doak said.

New website

The PHC is developing a new website which is expected to launch this fall. The current website is a relic from the internet’s past and is no longer updated.

Transmission tower at 169 Lake Street

The PHC’s seniors building at 169 Lake Street is one of the tallest buildings in Peterborough. As such, it’s a prime site for radio transmitters, and the Peterborough Fire Department has requested to use it to improve their radio reception. The board approved the request.

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