Affordable Rental Housing Developer asks for Council Support

At the recent Municipal election, there was a lot of talk about the need for affordable housing in Cobourg.  Council seems supportive but now Balder Corporation is asking for tangible support from the Town so they can get financing of almost $9M from CMHC.  They want to build a four storey 60 unit apartment block at 315-325 University Avenue West but to get financing, they have to obtain “concessions from any level of Government”.  Since the province is unlikely to be supportive, they are asking Cobourg.  It does not have to be a large amount – in fact they do not specify an amount but leave it to council to decide.  The subject will come up at the next Committee of the Whole meeting on February 19 – the recommendation by staff is to refer a decision to budget deliberations.

Need for Rental Housing

Balder CMHC
Balder CMHC

In their correspondence to the Town, Balder points out that

  • Northumberland County has not had a vacancy rate of over 3% since 2010, and, in 2017, it had a rental vacancy rate of 1.2%
  • Cobourg’s vacancy rate has dropped from 1.3% in 2017 to 0.4% in 2018. Furthermore, during the same time period as above Cobourg has seen a net decrease of nine private market rental units.
  • CMHC Financing is available for “purpose-built rental apartments that offer affordable rents, accessible units, greater energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, which can demonstrate long term financial viability without operational subsidies.”

The building proposed would be on 315-325 University West which is West of William Street and on the south side opposite the empty old Home Hardware site.  It would have 15 bachelor units, 35 one bedroom and 10 two bedroom units.  There would be one level of underground parking with the balance above ground.  Heating would be geothermal (also called Ground source heat pump) and the building would be both accessible and highly energy efficient.  The building is intended to address the shortage of affordable housing but will not have subsidized rents.  These features are required by the CMHC Financing initiative.


Three or more of the following are required:

  • Grants
  • Concessions on property taxes
  • Concessions on levies
  • Waiver of development cost charges or other provincial/municipal fees
  • Expedited Approvals
  • Waiver of community amenity contributions
  • Other

Balder points out that current taxes on the properties are $11,000 and with a 60 unit apartment, these would go up significantly.

Their specific recommendations for possible concessions are:

  1. waiver of property taxes (for example, for a number of years deemed appropriate by council),
  2. expedition of the development process,
  3. deferral on development fee(s)
  4. waiver of application fee(s) and levies

This project is not in the County’s mandate because it’s not subsidized so after all the rhetoric during the election it’s hard to imagine the Council denying all possible concessions.


Update 19 Feb 2019

Balder has now withdrawn their request so it is no longer on the Agenda. They will be re-submitting later in the year.  Because of this, their correspondence has been removed.  Watch for a new post at a future date. 

Update – 12 March 2019

Balder have resubmitted their application and it will be decided at the Budget review meeting on March 14.  Download their application letter here: Correspondence from Balder Corporation – 6 March 2019

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manfred s
20 February 2019 9:46 pm

while “affordable housing” is I’ll defined, there’s little question that it is in perpetual short supply, no matter the locale. As such, the demand for it will perpetually outstrip the supply. We basically agree that the difference between supply and demand is quite severe and shows little sign of abating. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that those in search of affordable housing will follow the supply, they have little in the way of alternative options. Having made that assumption eventually leads to the conclusion that no matter how much we build, any new supply will be quickly consumed by the perpetual and somewhat mobile demand and essentially leave us with an endless shortage and an equally unsatisfied demand. To think that we can solve the problem by building more and more is a naive perspective. That’s not to say that we should not build, but it is way too optimistic to think that’s the solution. The same goes for the belief that the problem is solvable simply by subsidizing higher cost units only with tax dollars, to make them more affordable. Let’s not downplay the property tax loading on rental accommodations either. That may be where the municipality has an opportunity to affect their affordability without using taxes already collected from the wider municipality. Whatever is done, we should not make the mistake to believe that we are ‘solving’ the problem. The more we build, the greater the influx of those who need it, leaving us with a yet greater unsatisfiable demand. The local strategy has to be a solution powered by higher levels of government because the problem reaches far beyond the local scene and can never be solved at the municipal level.

20 February 2019 6:13 pm

“How about focusing on assisting them (Balder) and investigating other means to help the homeless.”

Why would we help anybody who isn’t helping to house the homeless directly? We only have so much money to go around!

20 February 2019 12:00 pm

Good on all those who are defining what ‘affordable housing’ means. Without a clear definition much of the discussion could be misleading. There is a clear shortage of housing for lower income individuals and families. The private sector has not been building apartments because the profits are higher building condos and detached homes. At least that is the way things usually work with the private sector. Investors try to get the highest returns on their investments.

What we really need to decide is what is the best way to provide housing for lower income households. Leaving things the way they are will not likely work. Providing some incentives to the private sector so they will build suitable housing is one option. Another is for the government to completely fund new construction. The actual construction would likely be contracted out to for profit companies. Co-op buildings were mentioned by Jim Thomas. How do they get built? Likely private companies but with tax dollars or private investments? Perhaps there are many other options. Which option will provide the best use of tax dollars? Maybe we could get more units built for the same number of tax dollars by providing incentives to developers. Maybe not.

For the purpose of this particular proposal we need to use the CMHC definition of affordable housing to get the CMHC grant. Then the grant money could be used to build at least some ‘affordable housing’ which is better than none. Do we want to provide the concessions so this project can go ahead? If not, will the project go ahead or will more condos be built?

18 February 2019 6:23 pm

“There are many ways, which are used by municipalities across the Province, for Council to encourage affordable housing.
They include expediting the development permit process, waiving or reducing property taxes for a set period of time, waiving or reducing development charges”

None of these measures will provide enough relief to the builder to build housing that the needy can afford. Even if they build enough units to house a few the rent required to get in these units is far too high to get ONE family off the waitlist.

All they do is maximise profitabilty to the builder not relief to the homeless!

So save your applications for the piddling subsidies that developers are asking Council for and concentrate on pushing governments to build the housing needed for the people on the waitlist. The private sector has failed miserably do not encourage them with our tax money!

michal Hasek
Reply to  ben
20 February 2019 5:53 pm

Any purpose built rental housing would provide a modicum of relief to Cobourg’s renters. There are many ways that the crisis could be alleviated. Claiming that a developer is after your taxes when it is not necessarily so is not one of them. Balder has invested a ton of cash and huge sweat equity into this town. How about focusing on assisting them and investigating other means to help the homeless.

michal Hasek
17 February 2019 9:33 pm

Balder has invested two million dollars, acquired a mortgage of almost nine million dollars. That is eleven million dollars being invested in a run down old vermin infested wood shop. He has asked for no money. Concessions like parking requirement reduction and deferment of taxes and development charges. All you who have not invested anything but hot air can do is belly ache. There is a rental housing crisis, no a catastrophe, out there. Landlords charge a thousand dollars for basement apartments that none of you would enter without retching. Does your mother have to live in your basement because there’s nothing to rent? Do you not understand? The rental housing availability is negative because all that gets built is single family or condo. Flood the market with rentals and the people will fill them. Build enough and rents will come down. Quit your NIMBY obstructionism and get some money and land together to build more. The feds are dying to provide the funds. Stop infighting and whining. Start something positive. Let us roll up our sleeves, encourage folks like Balder to build, build and build some more rental housing. Get some people downtown instead of new interchanges and suburbia on the 401 to eat up agricultural land, spew commuter fumes and suck the life out of the core. There are three main obstacles to building: antiquated zoning by-laws, fear of new non-wealthy residents and a totally irrational fear of reduction in property values due to an influx of that dreaded creature “renters”. Rich folks prefer to live next door to raccoons. Do you know why Cobourg only allows six story buildings? Because the fire trucks ladder is not long enough to support anything higher. I too am a small town lover. But a small town where you have to… Read more »

Reply to  michal Hasek
18 February 2019 12:00 pm

Some of your more demographic and social comments I’m not a big fan of. I do agree with a number of your comments e.g. “But a small …… to both house your family and eat is beyond the pale.” but not all. For instance: “NIMBY” – not here as there is overwhelming support (including current set of Councilors) for subsidized/affordable housing; “He has asked for no money.” – not correct. These categories provide revenue to the Town. The foregoing support must not come at the expense of unreasonable gifts and/or setting precedents in dealing with similar future enterprises. Further, I believe there is a general public backlash (see Amazon, New York) against community-provided funds to businesses. The short-term benefit actual impacts are as understated as the use of buzz words are overstated. Balder is a relatively small developer (<5M$ revenue, <20 employees) and good for them to take on this project. Truly hope they are successful and the objectives of truly affordable housing are achieved.

Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 3:21 pm

On the question of what the ‘affordable’ rents will be, Balder in its application to CMHC affirmed that 20% of the 60 units will charge rent of no more than 30% of median household income in Cobourg.
In addition, 10% of the units will be handicapped accessible and access to the building and common areas will be ‘barrier-free’.
The other units will make a welcome addition to Cobourg’s woeful rental accommodation stock.

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 5:19 pm

Good information Walter.
So 12 of the 60 units will be “affordable” (a wonderfully misleading poli-speak term)
From StatsCan 2015 data for Cobourg and assume a 2% increase in income per year for the past 3 years (2016, 17, 18):

the median economic household income (family w kids) was $79.9K, increasing to $84.8K.
30% = $25,440, = $2,120 per month “rent”

the median economic household income (family no kids) was $76K, increasing to $84.8K.
30% = $22.8K, = $1900 per month “rent”

By this definition, Cobourg has “affordable” housing. Amazing!!

StatsCan provides lots of additional data, including:
Median single parent economic family was $49.4K increasing to $52,425
30% = $15,728, = $1,310 per month “rent”

Median individual total income (2015): $33,463 increasing to $35.5K
30% = $10,650, = $888 per month “rent”.

The $800 range is what Trinity Court indicated would be their “affordable” rent

I think that the Town should not consider any “assistance” to Balder until they revise their “affordable” metric to a more realistic one.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  Bryan
17 February 2019 10:42 pm

According to CMHC, Cobourg’s median family income is about $52,000.
Balder would have taken that figure in its CMHC application.
One would assume that the max rent of 30% of median family income applies to the 2-bedroom units. With the rents for 1-bedroom and bachelor units down from there.
Northumberland County Housing Services administers and funds subsidized housing (also known as Rent-Geared-to-Income or RGI assistance) for people with low to moderate incomes, seniors and/or people with special needs.
RGI assistance generally ensures that a household pays no more than 30% of its gross monthly income on rent.
According to ONPHA (Ontario Non-Profit Housing Assn.) latest figures (2015), the waiting list for Northumberland RGI housing was 399 households.

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 11:51 pm

Good to know, Walter.
The CHMC data is somewhat dated….2011.
$52000 after tax is about $57600 before tax
I suggest that the StatsCan 2016 data, adjusted for “inflation” to 2018, provides a view that is closer to the current situation.

In 2018 Northumberland County published its 2017 Housing and Homelessness Annual Report. It is a must read for those interested and concerned about the state of “affordable” housing in our towns.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  Bryan
18 February 2019 3:57 pm

Thanks Bryan.
I have learned a lot on the public housing issue and I have read the County document. I am almost convinced now that giving low-income folks a money allowance towards making rents affordable is the way to go.
But that’s a whole other subject.
Thanks again.

Deborah OConnor
Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
18 February 2019 4:55 pm

Some of your reading is outdated, Walter. The current waiting list for Northumberland’s subsidized housing stock is sitting at about 760. I cannot find where that is reported but can offer their chart that lists wait times to get housed.

The County’s current definition of affordable housing is 80% of current market rent. It seems it is only the already built, subsidized housig that used to be called Ontario Housing, that still uses the former rule about 30% of a tenant’s gross income. It’s getting very complicated and there are more types of non profit housing managed by the County than just the original Ontario Housing units.

Derek Blackadder
17 February 2019 12:49 pm

Using the term ‘affordable ‘ does not make them so. It might be that the story is missing some detail, but I doubt it. Seems more likely that some had the grand idea to use the word in hopes of it helping to lubricate the town’s decision-makers process. Try ‘rent geared to income’ if you want my support.

17 February 2019 12:30 pm

Doesn’t this sentence “The building is intended to address the shortage of affordable housing but will not have subsidized rents. These features are required by the CMHC Financing initiative.” nullify the entire enterprise? That is, Balder is looking for 9M$ from CMHC but Balder is not offering subsidized rents (a requisite for CMHC). Looks to me the Town is being asked for concessions for a project that will require either CMHC to withdraw it’s requisite or Balder to change its revenue formula to include subsidized rents. So what is the definition of ‘affordable’ and who arbitrates that definition -the builder or the community for which the housing is being provided?

Jim Thomas
17 February 2019 10:14 am

And then there’s co-op buildings, which are owned by the residents* such that there is no landlord taking a profit. The expenses of acquiring and operating the building are divided up between the residents based on square meters per apartment, and rents can be subsidised for a portion of the units. These buildings tend to be the basic, no-frills type that are affordable for lower-income households.

*a numbered company is created for the sole purpose of acquiring and operating the property on behalf of the residents (who are never called “tenants”).

17 February 2019 8:59 am

OK folks get real about affordable housing – my definition of it would be to structure the rent so that people on the County waitlist can move off it. A heckuva a lot less than any commercial rent proposed by any benevolent builder. So if the cost of building is the same for all builders and that cost translates into a lack of housing how do we get it built?

Not easy but can be done but unfortunately unless a builder has free land – major cost of the project it is impossible under conventional conditions.

But the Town has tracts of land all over the Town just sitting idle, no tax yield and a cost to maintain. Why doesn’t the Town either use this land to build or donate it to someone who will. Then all the other suggestions come into play about relief from levies and development charges etc.

There are non profits who are already doing this, and have done it for over fifty years – Trinity Housing Corporation is the obvious one that comes to mind. They also have a proposal to the Town asking for funds and loans to expand the existing facility they run.

Why wouldn’t the Town outsource their ambitions to these folks, they know how to do it?

I for one am waiting to see just what this “progressive” council has to to say in response to the request after all they will be judged by the response.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  ben
17 February 2019 10:00 am

“The longtime seniors’ housing provider who created Trinity Place in Cobourg is not the preferred choice to develop more affordable seniors’ housing in the town, according to a staff report going to Northumberland County councillors on Wednesday.
This is the second time a submission or proposed project from the church-based organization has been rejected by the county housing service in the past year or so.
Trinity’s submission was not even short listed in the four proposals seeking about $3.6-million in provincially-provided funding through Northumberland County.” Northumberland News
Any idea why County has rejected Trinity, Ben?

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 12:14 pm

Haven’t got a clue, the first time they were rejected in favour of a private sector developer (read higher cost), better ask the whizkids at the County.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 12:38 pm

hi Walter,
Where did you find that staff report (referred above) to County Council? I checked the meeting agenda and could not locate it. Is it part of a larger report?
Also at County Council Wednesday is a presentation on the new Golden Plough be opened by 2022.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
17 February 2019 2:55 pm

Hi Miriam!
There is nothing straightforward in this matter.
The article I was quoting was from 2016.

John Draper
Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
17 February 2019 12:51 pm

I’ve been involved in working on this issue since the glory days of the 80s when real affordable housing was being built. A couple of things. First, the County survey tells us it is not seniors who need affordable housing, it is younger singles and families with kids. Second, the County has chosen for-profit developers for the Munroe Street project, the one down the street from me that’s been under construction for almost two years now. Most of those units will not be available for those in the greatest need. The developer is the same one who converted the old hospital into pricey retirement units,called Palisades Garden.
Bonus third point: affordable housing used to be determined by the income of each applicant; no more than 30% of gross income. Now it is set at 80% of market rent! (Written by Deb O’Connor)

Deborah OConnor
Reply to  John Draper
17 February 2019 5:27 pm

FYI:The reply above was written by me, not John. John graciously posted it for me when the gremlins wouldn’t allow me to do it.

Deborah OConnor
16 February 2019 4:36 pm

All over the country affordable housing has been re-defined and watered down to the point it’s meaningless. While the need for reasonable rents is widespread, it is those on social assistance, minimum wage and part time work, disability and old age pensions who are in the deepest need. These are the people who end up homeless and without hope.

To have a project with not a single subsidized unit only adds insult to injury. I strongly urge Town Council to save their tax concessions for a project that is proposed by a non-profit organization and includes fully subsidized units to house the most needy as well as higher income families who need fair rents. We have a few non-profits who are scrambliing to get the funds together to build real affordable housing, it is they who deserve municipal support.

Reply to  Deborah OConnor
16 February 2019 9:35 pm

Finally some one that understands knows the Difference of some group looking for a Hand Out and
using the Trigger word Affordable to get what they want as compared To how the real sys works Whitby has a Number of actual
affordable housing buildings where one can live with dignity and comfort a few are sponsored by the Dutch Church Groups

Small Town Lover
15 February 2019 9:25 am

So much unknown. How much will the rents be? Will there be any handicapped units? Is it just for low too middle class working people or also people on social assistance ? Just one bedroom units or up to three. They are asking for money to build “affordable housing “. But what exactly does that mean?

14 February 2019 9:47 am

Meeting the need for affordable housing is a no-brainer for Cobourg.
There are many ways, which are used by municipalities across the Province, for Council to encourage affordable housing.
They include expediting the development permit process, waiving or reducing property taxes for a set period of time, waiving or reducing development charges and using the Official Plan to support accessible housing forms (garden suites and tiny homes).
The portfolio of the Balder Corporation features attractive buildings on a smaller scale than envisioned here.
I like their philosophy as stated here:
“In order to create a meaningful architectural experience, it is imperative that the architect considers both the context within which they are to build, as well as the built form they are creating. Successful architecture is founded on the harmonious integration of the existing context and the newly built form.”
So let’s get on with it.

Reply to  Albert
14 February 2019 10:07 am

Show me affordable to the people not affordable to the Builder
Naturally If they have more $$ to play and build with then they can build a nicer product and Charge a Higher rent or flip the project based off a projected ROI if these Concessions are given and they are after are transportable to
another Investor builder that may have a different agenda

Reply to  sandpiper
14 February 2019 11:12 am

Some municipalities have policies related to replacing affordable housing units that have been demolished or converted to another tenure (i.e. ownership or condominium) or use. This helps ensure that the affordable housing supply in a community is not diminished. Cobourg could be one of those communities.

Reply to  Albert
14 February 2019 12:05 pm

not here — show me ! FIRST

TAG Properties
Reply to  sandpiper
14 February 2019 12:52 pm

The CMHC program requires that a certain percentage of the rents in the building are 10% below CMHC rental values (which are well below market rents already). The program forces affordability, and provides fabulous incentives for the private sector to help out with affordable housing. This is a win-win for everyone!

Reply to  TAG Properties
17 February 2019 8:50 am

OK so how about council gives you relief on the miniscule number of ‘affordable’ units and then see if you can fulfill your plans if not find the money elsewhere.

14 February 2019 9:16 am

If Balder gets these kinds of concessions from the Town then all Apartment Builders should be given the Same Support and Concessions so their is a Level Playing field out there , Other wise I see some sort of Favouritism happening here .This is an pure upside to any Bottom line $ . I have spoken to other developers in the region and the problem with building any apartment building is the soft costs related to construction and of course the Taxes These are all passed along and eventually turn up in the rental rates of the apartments . I see no discussion here of Cheap rents Yet we allow them the Disguise of Affordable housing to request these forms of Tax payer and Town support and Discounts . Keep in mind that along with affordable housing come people that need it if it really is affordable & it comes additional cost and service requirements that will be put on the municipality ie: Garbage , Sewage , Bussing, Education if its family oriented Policing and more Health care — these tenants may not all be living in Cobourg now . May be the answer is to be come a Profit sharing partner in the Project with a Minimum guaranteed annual return or dividend for 2 reasons 1- to get or ensure a ROI return on our investment – 2 to make sure that it truly is maintained as a Affordable housing operation and not a for profit deal We all know the demand a new Clean & Fresh rental building will fill up and be rented out in a matter of wks even a full / fair market rents I doubt the needy will even get through the doors . Tell me show me where does the affordable come in… Read more »

14 February 2019 8:16 am

I would suggest that Balder is in business to presumably make a profit, so I say “Get out of my pocket” and structure your business plan accordingly. When does it end?

13 February 2019 1:40 pm

Let’s have an answer on Trinity Housing’s application first personally I would have no problem Supporting THC over what appears to be a ‘carpetbagger’!

Reply to  ben
14 February 2019 11:59 am

Thanks Ben, Trinity Housing has taken it on the chin long enough, this is what affordable rent is all about.
Merle 08

Reply to  Merle
14 February 2019 3:05 pm

I agree with Merle !0 % off Market rents as suggested by Tag Properties its peanuts in a Town where rents are high due to supply and demand . Affordable is not $1300.- to $1600.– per month + + +
when peoples OAS & CPP combined aren’t that high never mind those on ODSP or WSIB
I know we can’t help everyone but the time has come to stop sugar coating things
Affordable Housing or just a hand out ?

Wally Keeler
Reply to  sandpiper
14 February 2019 3:59 pm

“Affordable Housing” reveals a streak of generosity in our community, whereas, “just a hand out” indicates an ungrateful miser.