Cambridge city council agrees to fast-track voting process to get more houses built faster

Cambridge city council has voted to proceed with nine internal capital projects that will allow the faster construction of housing. (Robin De Angelis/CBC - image credit)
Cambridge city council has voted to proceed with nine internal capital projects that will allow the faster construction of housing. (Robin De Angelis/CBC - image credit)

Cambridge city council has agreed to temporarily suspend the rules governing when motions can be heard to allow the city to proceed with building more homes more quickly.

The vote preceded a motion tabled by Coun. Ross Earnshaw; the motion directed city staff to move ahead with nine internal capital projects, which will help facilitate the construction of more housing in Cambridge.

Cambridge Deputy City Manager Hardy Bromberg said typically, when a councillor tables a motion, it's not actually heard until the next council meeting, about two weeks later.

Bromberg said Earnshaw first asked council to waive that requirement, so the motion could be brought forward, and voted on, on Tuesday. Council voted in favour of both waiving the requirement, and the resolution itself.

"We were fortunate enough to receive some of the housing accelerator fund, and we entered into an agreement," Bromberg said. "Part of that process is also to set up some internal capital projects for us."

"That's our internal mechanism to ensure that the money is assigned appropriately, and we have the funding to carry out those projects. So [Tuesday's] council direction and decision was essentially an internal housekeeping issue in order to set up those capital projects, and get going on the important work that we need to do."

Bromberg said there are nine internal capital projects underway.

"One would be fast-tracking some municipal lands for affordable and attainable housing," he said.

Another is the creation of a data-driven, accelerated approval process for planning applications, Bromberg said.

"We're looking at providing a grant program for people building additional residential units," he said. "We're looking at implementing a form-based residential zoning bylaw, which is a little bit different than simply just a prescribed version of of your traditional zoning bylaws."

Also in the works are enhancements to Cambridge's online portal, which would make it easier for the public or builders to obtain building permits, as well as a study as to what kind of housing would best meet Cambridge's needs.

Earnshaw, in his motion, said establishing the capital projects would allow staff to allocate $13 million in housing grant funding faster, and would "ensure the city meets required timelines for the funding agreement with CMHC and to ensure the adequate provision of a full range of housing, including affordable housing, and ensure that the funds are appropriately allocated to the different projects to get them underway."

The motion also called for staff to report back to council in September; the report would essentially be an update on the capital projects, Bromberg said.

Thousands of new units planned

"We know there are a number of municipalities that have access to this housing accelerator fund just like [the] City of Cambridge, and so there are limited resources out there in the private sector that can help municipalities undertake some of this work," he said. "And so it's really important to get these capital projects up and running, and get some tenders out and get people in here and support for these projects as soon as possible."

Cambridge council previously confirmed a housing pledge to build up to 19,000 new housing units over 10 years, Bromberg said.

"There are a number of streams that the municipality is looking at," he said. "There's the Building Faster Fund from the provincial government in addition to the Housing Accelerator Fund, which is supported through the federal government."

"We don't build the homes, but we try to facilitate planning approvals and building permit approvals, and I know our council has been very supportive as we work through that process."