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Expensive hotel rooms or affordable housing?

April 4th,2024 | Valley Voices

By Robert Vandenberg

If you haven’t already, visit the new “boutique hotel” in Old Chelsea. The tastefully designed, funky-blue, three-storey development is tucked snuggly behind Café Les Saisons. A “loft” room-for-two in mid-April is advertised at $472 a night. A bottle of champagne delivered to the room is $75 extra. Outside the facility, an advertising board encourages investors to buy a unit or two and let the developer manage the rentals. Kudos to the developer who had the entrepreneurial spirit, access to capital and the raw talent to design and build this impressive and attractive accommodation business.

Now let’s imagine a mirror universe, one in which the municipality had moved to secure that property when it was still vacant. Imagine the municipality of Chelsea with the same creative spirit working collaboratively with a community-based cooperative housing association, the long-standing regional cooperative housing association (FIHAB), the MRC and provincial and federal housing authorities. Instead of handing a resourceful developer a tidy profit with limited benefit to taxpayers in Chelsea, we could have built a multi-unit rental cooperative on that empty lot. Together we could have moved the dial on net-zero cooperative housing with units renting below market prices and with several apartments reserved for lower-income families: that is the cooperative housing model that has been successful across Canada and especially in Quebec. That’s the opportunity that the municipality of Chelsea missed on Padden Road. 

Securing land for affordable housing is considered impractical. How can we encourage our elected councilors to dream bigger and push against the unstainable status quo? Continually approving short-term development plans that serve a few developers rather than our wider community is not impressive leadership. We can do better. The province and the MRC need to impose regulations that force municipalities to prioritize affordable housing plans. Net-zero cooperative housing projects should be a central feature of those plans.

Robert Vandenberg is a member of Cohabitat Wakefield, an organization working to bring the first cooperative housing project to Wakefield: cohabitatwakefield.ca

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