A municipal incentive or bonus zoning reserve will be created to help support affordable housing in the Regional Centre.
Council discussed the initiative during a 10-hour meeting on Tuesday, wrapping it up Wednesday with a unanimous vote supporting the motion.
Incentive or bonus zoning is a planning tool under the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter that allows the municipality to require developments to provide public benefits in exchange for greater development rights.
A minimum of 60 per cent of money-in-lieu provided for public benefit must be dedicated to affordable housing, except for in the Old South Heritage conservation district where money-in-lieu will go towards heritage conservation.
The remaining 40 per cent of money-in-lieu must be either directed to affordable housing, or another public benefit including heritage conservation, improvements to municipal parks, affordable community cultural indoor spaces and public art.
Councillor Waye Mason says council is limited with what it can do about the lack of affordable housing in HRM but is optimistic this will help improve the situation.
"Residents have been concerned, and we are certainly hearing during the election about why we aren't forcing the developers to build affordable units and taking money instead," he says. "The answer is, we don't really have the tools to do that ... What we can say is you have to give us a bunch of money before you get a building permit."
The money-in-lieu collected for affordable housing will be used to support the development and retention of affordable housing units. It will be awarded through grants to non-profit or registered charities as well as partnerships between private developers and non-profits through an application process.
Councillor Sam Austin told council he is enthusiastic about the grant program.
"In the affordable housing area, of course, we face a lot of pressure because there is a real crisis out there," he says. "So much of what could be done is out of our control like inclusionary zoning, rent control, all of that stuff is provincial. But here is an area where we could actually have a meaningful impact."
A number of councillors, including David Hendsbee, voted in favour of the motion but raised concerns about the grant only serving the Regional Centre.
"What about beyond the centre core?" he says. "What about the suburban areas of Timberlea, Lakeside, Bedford, Cole Harbour, and then the rural parts? Are there affordable housing projects we need to help fund?"
City staff told council that amendments could be made in the future to the Regional Plan that would allow the program to expand to include additional parts of the municipality.