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Could Sault churches provide land for affordable housing?

Places of worship and other institutional-zoned properties are eyed as sources of underutilized land that could be used to densify existing built-up parts of the city

A housing idea promoted last summer by Matthew Shoemaker during his successful mayoral campaign is on the agenda for Monday's city council meeting in Sault Ste. Marie.

Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour and his Ward 3 counterpart Angela Caputo will introduce two resolutions about affordable housing.

One is a densification approach being tried in Barrie, Ont., that Shoemaker made part of his mayoral platform.

Barrie's New Foundations program invites places of worship and owners of institutional-zoned properties (like community centres and assisted-living facilities) to apply for funding for affordable housing feasibility studies.

"By implementing a program like the New Foundations program that has been rolled out successfully in Barrie, we can encourage under-utilized land to be used for multi-unit housing projects," Shoemaker said in a campaign announcement last June.

"We have seen this type of project work in our community, both at the Trinity Tower project at the corner of Northern Avenue and Great Northern Road, and at the Royal Canadian Legion property on Great Northern Road,” Shoemaker said last year.

"What we now need is a concerted effort to take what has worked for those projects and implement it across the community, with the main push being on development in the downtown area.”

"Sault Ste. Marie has many underutilized properties that could benefit from redevelopment and densification," Dufour and Caputo say in their resolution to be presented Monday.

On Monday, council will consider a pair of resolutions that, if approved, would explore this idea further.

The first directs the city's Affordable Housing Task Force to study the feasibility of implementing a densification program in the Sault, detail the program's structure, and outline its budget.

The second resolution directs the task force to study the feasibility of implementing a vacant property tax for the Sault, which would target property investors that purchase vacant homes and properties and leave them empty. Proceeds from any tax would go toward task force initiatives.

— SooToday