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Winnipeg Mayor’s State of City Address looks to tackle affordable housing crisis

Click to play video: 'Mayor wants focus on affordable housing'
Mayor wants focus on affordable housing
At his annual State of the City address, Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham shared plans on how the city is looking to accelerate the approval process for new housing. Marney Blunt reports. – Feb 9, 2024

Affordable housing is few and far between in Winnipeg, and often called “a crisis.”

It’s an issue Mayor Scott Gillingham said he is looking to fast-track in his annual State of the City address before the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

He said he wants to help housing keep up with surging demand. “We have to act now. We can’t control when developers build housing, but we can control what we can approve to be built,” he said.

To do that, the mayor is challenging the city to have 8,000 housing units approved by Nov. 30 of this year, and he’s asking all city departments to work on it.

“From this point on, Public Works needs to see itself as a housing department. Water (and) Waste needs to see itself as a housing department. Transit, Community Services, city clerks all are housing departments, because every department in the City of Winnipeg has a part to play in getting housing improved,” Gillingham said.

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“Sometimes the challenge can be, we hear from developers, (that) the approval process can take too long, and so we want to make sure we do our part to not be an impediment to developers who build housing,” he said.

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The city’s current Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) agreement with the federal government has a target of having 14,000 building permits approved by the end of 2026, “or we’ll lose the last installment,” he said.

However, Gillingham said there are already thousands of units in the pipeline for approval, and this new plan aims to expedite that process. He said the city’s deputy CAO and a new director of planning, property and development are already working to streamline and deliver on HAF commitments and processes.

“For the sake of our kids and our labour market, new Canadians and refugees, and our economy, and the too many Winnipeggers without a home at all, we need to approve more housing, more quickly,” he said.

Premier Wab Kinew said, “Adding more housing units across the spectrum is going to help end chronic homelessness, plus probably make things more affordable for rents and people looking to get that first home.”

He said if there’s a way to collaborate on incentivizing more builds and permits, it will certainly be followed up on.

Lanny McInnes, president and CEO of the Manitoba Homebuilders Association, said the city averages 5,600 home starts over three years.

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He said a goal of 8,000 units approved by November is aggressive but achievable, as it’s about approving units rather than beginning construction.

“It really sends a strong message to industry but it also sends a strong message to the city administration,” he said.

The mayor said Winnipeg’s vacancy rate dropped almost 70 per cent from 2021 to 2023. Meanwhile, housing starts or new builds dropped seven per cent in 2023 — worse than the national average, Gillingham said.

At the address, the mayor also said he wants to explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in improving customer service and workplace productivity. He said other cities have already started using AI in this capacity.

Gillingham also noted that a project to bring increased safety to city buses also came together quickly. The Winnipeg Police Service’s union, however, has filed a grievance against the new safety officers positions.

with files from Global’s Marney Blunt 

Click to play video: 'Housing Accelerator Fund impact'
Housing Accelerator Fund impact

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