Fredericton city council passed a motion at an emergency Friday night session of council to extend a $900,000 funding offer to the City Motel affordable housing project, but whether or not the John Howard Society will accept the offer remains to be seen.
Project lead Jason LeJeune says the potential roadblock comes in two of four clauses of the offer.
“We understood that the city needed some certainty around protecting tax payer dollars and we were certainly willing to do that,” he said.
“The motion that ended up being presented to council to vote on last night, there were some elements to it that provide a lot of discomfort for the John Howard Society.”
The project would see the John Howard Society purchase the City Motel on Regent St., renovating it to provide 20 affordable housing units, 12 peer supported units and a 24 bed emergency shelter to replace the current out-of-the-cold shelter on Brunswick St.
The motion came just days after council voted against providing a $900,000 grant to the project at a meeting on Monday night. The new motion included measures that councillors say will better protect the public.
The agreement would give the city right of first refusal should the John Howard society ever decide to sell the property and would refund the $900,000 funding in the event the building was sold to a third party.
LeJeune said the John Howard Society sees merit in both of those conditions, but is less comfortable with the final two, one of which would see the city’s contribution lessened if other funding partners come forward.
“It really precludes us from pursuing other funding avenues,” LeJeune said.
“Because it’s hard to engage with future funders under the conditions that we’re going to have to turn the money back over to the city. We had expressed to the city that we were uncomfortable with that term and condition earlier on but for some reason it hadn’t been removed before it was presented.”
The other calls for all funding partners to be documented and brought back to council for approval.
“We have to reach back to our other funding organizations who have their own terms and conditions and confidentiality of their funding agreements,” LeJeune said.
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“As the John Howard Society, we’re certainly not in a position to breach any conditions with our funders. I’m not sure what process that serves for the city.”
LeJeune says the project will go forward, with closing date on the sale of the property set for April 16. He says the John Howard Society is still unsure if it will accept the city’s offer, or look elsewhere to fill the $900,000 gap, which would go primarily to renovations. The total cost of the project is pegged at $4.1 million.
Much of the funding is coming from community partners, and the provincial government announced it would chip in $1.4 million last week. An application for federal funding through the CMHC Rapid Housing Initiative was recently rejected, creating the current shortfall the proponent is looking to overcome.
Coun. Kate Rogers, who is also chair of the city’s affordable housing committee, proposed the original motion that was defeated 6-5 on Monday night. Rogers says she opted to support Friday’s last ditch motion, but remains uncomfortable with some of the terms set out in the offer and maintains that dispensing the funding as a grant would have been preferable to the land transaction model now on the table
City officials and the John Howard Society spoke throughout the week, but the final motion included the additional two conditions that they had not agreed to.
“I ultimately voted in favour of it, just because I want to see this project happen,” Rogers said.
“And if providing the funding as a land transaction … if that made this project possible I was going to support it.”
But Rogers says she is worried about the longer-term impacts of the back-and-forth saga as the city looks for partners on future projects.
“My concern is how this is reflecting, just in general, how the city operates with community partners and other levels of government,” she said.
“I fear some bad will has been created and that is very concerning to me.”
Public reaction to Monday’s council decision was swift, with many taking to social media to express their displeasure. That community pressure was key in getting council to reconsider, Rogers says.
“The public was telling us, we want our city to support that and that was always my sense,” she said.
“When it didn’t go through on Monday the public spoke even louder and put pressure on elected officials.”
LeJeune says support in the community has been overwhelming, with many individuals and businesses coming forward to make donations to the project in the last week. But he is also pleading for the community to come together after what has been a somewhat divisive process.
“There’s been a lot of unnecessary commentary directed at both the proponent and at city councillors, particularly since Monday night’s vote,” he said.
“I wish the community would come together instead of attacking both sides, it really makes our collective work that much harder.”