Housing fund just one piece of the puzzle – Winnipeg Free Press
The amount of ink spilled on Canada’s housing crisis is enough to make the global climate crisis feel neglected and envious.
The post-pandemic spike in housing costs in Canada, especially rental prices, has politicians stumbling among themselves to announce their solutions. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has determined that to stabilize housing costs by leveling market demand, Canada must add an additional 3.5 million homes (170,000 in Manitoba) to current construction rates by 2030. This figure has been repeated in many Sometimes this has even reduced public discourse about housing affordability to mere housing supply.
This simplification of the issue prevented a more precise discussion such as matching the type of housing with housing needs. Simply oversupplying the market does not address the requirements for social and supportive housing to address homelessness and basic housing needs. It does not create new affordable homes for low-income residents, ignores the specific housing needs of seniors, students, and immigrant families, while ignoring the various challenges of homeownership and renting.
Simply increasing the supply of housing does not take into account where housing is being built. Over the past 50 years, cities have grown primarily through suburban sprawl, resulting in an urban form that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. If we are to build enough housing to eliminate the housing crisis, while also creating livable, equitable, and financially prosperous cities, new construction can no longer rely solely on sprawling subdivisions and downtown residential towers. Growth and densification must occur in all neighborhoods of the city. Most people want to be part of a community, and live on a residential street, close to amenities such as schools, shopping, transit, community centers, and parks. Socially just growth means providing affordable access to existing neighborhoods for new residents. Achieving this goal would require ending exclusionary zoning and allowing the construction of basement and garden suites, duplexes, four-story townhomes, townhomes, and even small apartment complexes on residential streets.
A sound political point that has gained more attention is the need to “remove gatekeepers” who stand in the way of housing construction. These gatekeepers are largely portrayed as civic politicians, bureaucrats and planning departments who slow down development approvals. However, the real gatekeepers are local residents who continually oppose change and densification in their neighborhoods. City governments are directly accountable to their constituents, so that local priorities are inevitably reflected in the decision-making process, with larger goals often getting lost in the process.
Zoning and neighborhood plans can reflect this public desire to resist change, even when the long-term benefits are well understood. If residents support new development projects more readily, local governments will reflect these priorities, and the floodgates of approval will open.
Recognizing the need for a cultural change in how city governments respond to local concerns, the federal government implemented a new $4 billion program called the Housing Acceleration Fund. The program goes beyond simply increasing supply and responds to the nuances of Canada’s housing needs, by incentivizing local governments to remove barriers to housing development and create a diverse, affordable and equitable housing supply.
Cities across the country have submitted applications for the program and are currently negotiating approval. To be eligible for financing, cities have set a current baseline for housing construction and committed to growth targets that increase supply by at least 10 percent each year. At least seven new policy initiatives have been identified to directly support targeted housing growth, with funding provided to give cities the financial capacity to implement these plans. The program ensures that funds provided are not lost in bureaucracy by being results-based, with funds provided for every new home built.
The Housing Acceleration Fund targets different types of housing through a sliding scale of financial incentives. For every new unit built above the baseline, cities would receive $20,000, increasing to $32,000 for multifamily housing integrated into existing neighborhoods, $35,000 for homes near rapid transit, and $39,000 for affordable housing. The City of Winnipeg’s application hopes to receive $192 million if its goal of building 5,300 new homes over three years is reached.
The program provides cities with the ability to identify specific housing needs and design their strategies to target the most impactful outcomes. Some cities may need more market housing, and other cities may need to address homelessness in a greater way. A program in which the federal government works cooperatively with cities allows for this flexibility. The seven new initiatives are intended to be the permanent vehicle for long-term change in the programme, as cities must identify structural shifts in their planning policies and approvals for their proposals to be accepted. Winnipeg, for example, promises that; Upgrading infrastructure as the city anticipates development interest, expanding online building permit applications, creating new departments to work with the non-profit sector and redeveloping city-owned properties, and implementing rapid adjustments to zoning and local area plans to create high-density development as-of-right. Calgary is boldly proposing to allow at least one duplex on every residential lot.
Canada’s housing crisis has many complex variables. At a time when housing supply needs to accelerate, construction costs are at all-time highs, and the Bank of Canada is increasing interest rates with the express aim of slowing housing construction. The Housing Accelerator Fund can redefine how cities build housing today, and in the future, but it is just one piece of a very large puzzle. The most important step we can take individually is to understand that when we oppose high densities and residential diversity in our neighborhoods, we are opposing a new home for someone else, making us the root cause of the housing affordability crisis.
Brent Bellamy is Creative Director at Number Ten Architectural Group.
Brent Bellamy is the Senior Design Architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.
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