Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Neighbourhood revitalization funding cuts = bad

Wow, take a few weeks off and see what life piles up for you - and here I thought that life paused while I was on the beach! I will attempt to get back into the blogging of all things Winnipeg/random with increased frequency as it's a personal pet peeve of mine that as soon as you start looking forward to reading a blog, the blogger inevitably stops posting as much.

So the bee in my bonnet today has to do with City Hall.  Last week, at the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development meeting, Councillor Russ Wyatt made the following motion,
That $500,000.00 be allocated from the Housing Rehabilitation
Investment Reserve to the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program, with the intention of
increasing the maximum allowable credit for the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program by
50% and the understanding that the expenditures of the balance of the $500,000.00 in the
Housing Rehabilitation Investment Reserve are to be referred to the Winnipeg Housing Steering
Committee for recommendation to the Executive Policy Committee.

See, not cool (more on why a little further down). Now, Councillor Mike Pagtakhan wisely asked to have it recorded that he voted against this motion. Good man. Now for those of you who have never heard of the Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program, let me give you a few details. First, let me say, I happen to think it's a very good program.

The gist of the program is this, if you pop down to the permits office and get permits for your renovation project you can get a percentage of the money you spent back, as a savings on your property tax. Almost all projects are eligible:
  • Standard Renovations – Generally, the following standard renovations are eligible for a 15% tax credit:
    • Renovating kitchens, bathrooms and unfinished basements.
    • Building an addition to a home that will be utilized as a year-round living space.
    • Installing, repairing or upgrading a plumbing system or electrical system or a ventilation system, but not including an air conditioner.
    • Reinforcing or repairing a foundation or basement, including weeping tile, excavation and related landscaping.
    • Home security alarms
    • Installing or repairing exterior sheathing, roofing, shingling, soffits, fascia, eavestroughing, doors or windows (excluding skylight windows).
    • Installing or repairing a water or sewer system, including excavation and related landscaping.
    • Purchasing and installing a low flush toilet.
    • Modifying a home to accommodate a disabled person or renovating for reasons of safety or occupant health.
    • Repairing a home to ensure or maintain compliance with the Maintenance and Occupancy By-Law.
    • Constructing or repairing a deck, verandah or garage.
  • Energy Efficiency Renovations – Generally, the following energy efficiency renovations that meet or exceed Manitoba Hydro Power Smart guidelines are eligible for a 25% tax credit:
    • Renovating an unfinished basement with insulation to the walls and floors.
    • Upgrading a primary heating system.
    • Upgrading an electrical system.
    • Upgrading a ventilation system.
    • Insulating walls and an attic.
    • Upgrading and insulating doors and windows
There are of course a few types of things that are not, also listed on the HRTA page of the City website, my personal favourite being the wallpapering exclusion. All in all, if you meet the criteria,
  • The resident’s home is used solely for residential occupation.
  • The resident’s home must have been built before January 1, 1985.
  • The resident’s home and land on which it is situated has an assessed value not exceeding $192,000.00 in 2010.
it's well worth looking into. What I particularly like about the program is that even if you are doing a project that doesn't require a permit, you can still benefit - so if you're dropping a bundle on re-doing your roof or putting in some new windows you can just sort of get some bonus cash back on your property taxes. You just have to go down and "apply" for a permit (free, since you didn't actually need one) so that they can register your interest or something in the program.

Now, like any good program that involves "free money" it of course runs out. This particular program runs until December 31st, or whenever the funds run out. According to the website, it appears as though they didn't run out until December 3rd. It would appear then that this was almost perfectly adequate funding. So why then does Mr. Wyatt want to move funding from much needed inner-city area revitalization over to this program?

Of course, inner-city residents are more than welcome to take advantage of the HRTA program, however there is one thing that sticks out in my mind as a major barrier. In order to max out the savings they would need to spend $10,000 on regular renovations or $6,000 on energy efficient ones.  The people that are needing the funding from the HRIR to go to the Housing Improvement Zones generally don't have that kind of cash to throw at a renovation.

So where does that leave them? Oh yeah, needing the full million dollars that is usually put into the funding for their neighbourhoods. A press release put out by the various Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations puts it far better than I could hope to explain it, but this does a pretty good job of summarizing why this funding is important:
The HRIR is used by five neighbourhoods with aging housing stock, derelict and boarded buildings, and lower incomes. The neighbourhoods are William Whyte, North Point Douglas, Centennial, Spence, and West Broadway. HRIR is a flexible fund that levers funding from other levels of government and private sources to be used for rehabilitation, infill and exterior fix ups for homeowners and landlords. The current allocation of $1 million dollars towards inner-city renewal is a mere 0.1 % of the operating budget, so already this is a modest investment towards revitalizing our city’s core areas.

But what does it all mean you ask? Well, here's a real world example, me. A few years ago I was in desperate need of eaves troughs, the ones I had were falling off the house and certainly not keeping the water away from the foundation. Because of a modest exterior fix-up grant that was available in my neighbourhood I was able to get them replaced. At that time, I didn't have the money to do it on my own, being a single person and first time homeowner of an 80+ year old property it wasn't a matter of what needed to be fixed, but more what DIDN'T need to be fixed.

So how does this benefit anyone but me in that story, you ask? Well, my increased pride in the appearance of my house helped motivate a neighbour to spruce up their property. How do I know that? Because I feel invested in my house and my neighbourhood, I talk to my neighbours. Was that grant the only reason I talked to my neighbour? Of course not, don't be silly, but it's a piece of the puzzle that will help create a better community in the long run. This funding to the HIZ neighbourhoods is a critical part of revitalizing them and a corner puzzle piece to the Our Winnipeg Plan and it's desire to have complete communties (more about that another time, it's late.)

Wow. What a serious post from me. To lighten the mood, here is a video of perhaps my all-time favourite song. It doesn't really relate to the post at all, except it has the word "Home" in it, but the random train of thought reminded me of another song of theirs entitled "Political" which, to be honest, I have no idea if relates to the post either and I didn't really want to have to find the lyrics and then see if they fit blah blah blah, so instead, have a fun song to make you wiggle your bum a little in your chair.

(The nostalgia tag is because I can't believe how old this song is now!)


  1. Good post. WE talked about it on WIPs this week !

  2. I suppose I should post the (happy?) follow up then!