Belleville city council has given the nod to apply for up to $22.3 million in federal housing funding in order to accelerate new housing construction.

Amid a national housing crisis with thousands on a local waiting list for social housing, the city will seek the funds from the $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund overseen by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

As an applicant, Belleville must agree to set up a variety of new measures that would speed up new housing starts of up to 875 new residential units over the next several years, councillors heard.

The fund is designed to provide up to 25 per cent of the funds in advance with 25 per cent given for each of the following three years, council was informed.

One housing projects eyed by the city to provide future affordable and market housing, for example, is in its initial steps in Belleville at the former Queen Mary School in the city’s west end.

Staff are working on a plan approved by city council June 12 that could see the school be repurposed for new housing by interested builders who submit requests for proposals.

Mayor Neil Ellis informed council that four of the five acres would be dedicated to new housing units with one acre of the property remaining for city parkland.

An ideal candidate for the accelerated funding for development, the vacant Queen Mary property has been listed on the market as a property declared surplus by the city for the last couple of years with no takers.

Ellis included in his June 12 motion that the Queen Mary property be listed for a 90-day period subject to renewal by council.

At Monday’s meeting, meanwhile, Coun. Garnet Thompson said he was in favour of the funding and hoped it would help the city but was concerned the city could end up paying back the money if funding targets aren’t met.

“Of the funding we get, if we don’t hit those targets, what happens to our funding,” he asked.

Director of Finance Brendon Ferguson replied the city is well posed to accept the funding and move ahead with strategies to include affordable housing targets.

Ferguson said as part of a housing plan in the works now by the city, “we will be able to identify very clearly the number of units that we’ll be generating through agreements. So, that funding will be funneled through that program so there will be some security there and some reduced exposure from not meeting our target we’re looking for.”

He said, “there are a number of checkpoints and progress reporting where we will be able to adapt and make sure we are not losing out and repay city funds out of the city’s money .”

Thompson asked if the city has canvassed local homebuilders to “see if this is a realistic number (875 homes) to build?”

Stephen Ashton, director of engineering and development services, replied “this does not necessarily need to be affordable housing or social housing, this just needs to accelerate housing in general. So, a lot of these projects are for a lack of a better word, are accelerating opening up lands for development.”

The funds would help the city start housing and development studies in the short term rather than over a five- to 10-year period, Ashton said.

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