Aging housing, lack of schools, perception of higher crime rates and lower socio-economic standing now dominate Windsor’s core neighbourhoods and unless drastic actions are taken nothing is going to change, says a Toronto-based consultant hired by the city.
City council will decide Tuesday whether to follow the consultant’s recommendation and fully waive development fees in the city’s most downtrodden neighbourhoods in a bid to spur investment and revitalization.
A lack of interest in commercial and residential development in downtown Windsor and “inequality” with suburban neighbourhoods, such as LaSalle and Tecumseh, will continue unless market actions are initiated, according to the 82-page report prepared by N. Barry Lyon Consultants Ltd.
The report details how removal of development charges or discounted real estate prices in core city neighbourhoods are unlikely to make any difference in attracting buyers or investors in the short term, but should be put in place to provide the best possible conditions to support a future turnaround which should eventually occur.
The Neighbourhood Market Value Analysis Report cites lower property values, higher foreclosures, plus vacant residential and commercial properties as reasons why an area essentially bordered by Tecumseh Road to the south, Pillette Road to the east and Prince Road to the west continues to remain unattractive for either revitalization or new development.
There are some pockets within the zone that are exceptions, such as Walkerville and parts of Riverside.
But new schools, storefronts and housing starts in the city’s outer edges in South Windsor and East Riverside have become preferential neighbourhoods that continue to pull residents away from the downtown core, the report said.
LaSalle and Tecumseh also continue to pull residents away for the same reasons.
The growth patterns have had a “significant impact” on the downtown area, the report said.
“Generally, the impacts have been declining housing values, abandoned and foreclosed homes, increased concentrations of poverty and unemployed, reduced commercial activity and an overall lack of investment and maintenance in the existing housing stock.”
Mayor Drew Dilkens supports the consultant’s recommendation to get rid of the development fees within the city’s core area.
There are reduced fees already that range between 25 to 75 per cent depending on the neighbourhood, but he feels they should just be eliminated in order to better jumpstart investment.
“The consultant recognizes the 25, 50 and 75 per cent discounts did not go far enough to make a difference,” Dilkens said. “That 100 per cent will have more impact.”
But the mayor believes there is only so much any city can do to trigger revitalization in certain neighbourhoods.
It is largely up to business investors to truly make a change such as what has already occurred in Walkerville where the rebirth of several businesses on and around Wyandotte Street East has triggered high demand and skyrocketing housing prices in the area, he said.
“Walkerville had a huge stock of beautiful homes and then you had significant business investment which picked up the vitality of the neighbourhood,” Dilkens said. “We did some streetscaping, but it was private business involved that changed everything.
“The more density you can bring to an area then the schools and amenities that are there will remain and grow. They feed on each other, so density is the key.”
City planner Thom Hunt said when the development charges bylaw for the current reductions was passed a year ago, a council resolution called for a market study review of the reduced fees a year later.
The consultant’s study was designed to help administration and council understand if the reductions assigned to each neighbourhood were the right choices.
“The study enabled administration to understand those areas with low market values and to assign reductions accordingly,” Hunt said.
But now there is a new recommendation in place, giving council the option to completely get rid of fees in a target area.
“We want all areas of the city to be successful,” Dilkens said. “We should use this as an example of how the city can, and will, do anything to help to the greatest extent possible.”
Removal of development fees would on average reduce construction costs of housing units in a range between $15,000 to $30,000 — roughly between five to eight per cent of overall costs, the report said.
The consultant’s study looked at property sales, foreclosures, population changes and building permits for each area of the city among other factors to reach its conclusions.
Ongoing investment by the city’s post-secondary institutions — the University of Windsor and St. Clair College — were noted as positives that will hopefully in part start to change the fate of downtown, the report said.