Pro IQRA News Updates.
One of the strangest things about the housing crisis is that, strictly speaking, there is no shortage of housing.
What the CTA suffers from, as part of a national crisis, is an acute shortage of affordable housing.
That point will be obvious to many. But it still doesn’t have enough influence on the proposed solutions to one of our biggest concerns heading into the October 24 Ontario civic elections.
For example, the Ford government, according to an exclusive report in the Star today, is expected to announce shortly after the election the elimination of municipal developer fees for housing projects built in “exclusion zones.”
Most neighborhoods in Toronto are zoned exclusively for single-family homes. This is a major obstacle to the construction of duplexes, low-rise apartment buildings and other types of affordable housing in the city’s residential areas.
But that expected Ford initiative is no solution. Given the history of gentrification where zoning has been relaxed, it will fail by not specifically encouraging new housing that qualifies as affordable.
What is needed is the elimination of exclusionary residential zones altogether. Civic planning officials across Ontario need to reform their zoning rules to provide a proper mix of housing types.
Some possible solutions that candidates who want to ask for in the municipal elections of 2022 appear below.
We keep hearing that there is a shortage of housing. Yet between 2006 and 2016, growth in new Canadian housing units outpaced the increase in new households by an average of nearly 30,000 units per year.
But what kind of housing does the industry build?
Largely due to restrictive zoning in Canadian municipalities, developers have long focused on high-end housing rather than the starter homes, multi-family dwellings and small apartment buildings we need.
The “starter home,” once the backbone of the North American housing market, has virtually disappeared. The classic starter home is a small, detached home with 1,400 sq.ft. ft. space and three bedrooms. It would be priced at about $270,000 today, depending on land costs, if someone were to just build it.
The Ford government pledged this year to increase the number of housing units in Ontario by 1.5 million over the next decade.
But that target cannot be met because the official city plans of many of Ontario’s 444 municipalities provide for too few new affordable housing units to meet the provincial target.
Many municipal councilors are swayed by NIMBYists (not-in-my-backyard) to whom they owe their jobs. NIMBYists vote, and would-be vacant housing residents don’t.
These “not in my backyard” opponents of changes in their neighborhoods deserve a hearing, but not the long-standing opposition they usually wage.
As each candidate claims to care about affordable housing, don’t settle for happy talk on doorsteps and at all-candidate meetings.
Demand hard promises to which candidates can be held accountable for tangible actions they will take, complete with deadlines. For example, ask candidates to commit to:
Reform residential zoning now. Set a two-year deadline for all Ontario municipalities to reform their residential zoning to encourage a mix of all types of housing, with a focus on affordable homes and rental units.
Reduce developer fees for builders of affordable housing, regardless of where it is built. City of Toronto fees charged to developers of detached and semi-detached homes were increased to $137,000 in July. This excludes building a starter home at $270,000.
Toronto relies on developer fees for about 20 percent of its infrastructure costs.
So lower the fees for every new affordable unit, no matter where it’s built. Even with a lower fee, the increased number of building permits to cater to the city’s most underserved market will make up for the lost revenue and increase the number of taxpayers.
Reduce tax on profits from building affordable housing. Developers have responded favorably to these federal and provincial incentives in the past, particularly during the various previous booms of New Canadians in need of decent homes.
Maybe we should bring back the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
Before it was disbanded and replaced by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), the OMB had the final say on the approval of building proposals.
The relatively fast-track OMB had the power to override local zoning rules that were unreasonable.
But an OMB seen as too powerful has given way to an OLT that is friendlier to NIMBYists and whose complex approval process can take years.
That lengthy process means it often takes longer to get approval for a project than to build it.
In the absence of urgently needed changes, developers will continue to build monster homes and add to the forest of luxury condo towers in the GTA.
But the same people power that drives NIMBYism can be used to demand a boost in affordable housing construction that strengthens the GTA’s economic base.
And remember that housing is not some vague function of the economy.
Among other virtues, which are at stake, is the ability of your children to afford a starter home near you, rather than looking for decent affordable housing in a distant location.