Community Matters: How Do We Fix the Housing Market?
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By Lexia Simmons, ESPC Volunteer
Home prices have risen 20.6% from 2018 to 2021 (Statistics Canada, 2022a), with reduced access to affordable housing. Countries, provinces, states, and municipalities have been researching, innovating, and implementing different programs to make housing more affordable. As stated by the Department of Finance Canada (2022), “Everyone should have a safe and affordable place to call home.” This article will begin with a municipality that has chosen to view the housing crisis through an innovative lens and then will focus on the strategies different municipalities have taken in solving the problems a lack of supply in the housing market has caused.
The City of Kitchener (2020) in Ontario developed a housing affordability program called Housing for All. The program includes seven main priorities; however, the City of Kitchener has identified some priorities that are new and not addressed in other municipal housing programs. Those priorities include a concentration on education around affordable housing. The idea is to shift the community mindset to housing as a human right and reduce the mentality of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) that has gripped and slowed down affordable housing programs in neighborhoods that need it. The City of Kitchener is also committed to lived experience collaboration, allowing those most impacted by the lack of housing to be a part of the solution. Finally, the last innovative priority is the commitment to developing more community housing and facilitating partnerships between the non-profit sector and developers to create innovative solutions to help make the housing market more affordable. Although these are not core activities, they are a framework in which Kitchener is planning on moving forward with housing affordability. A theme identified in Kitchener, as well as other municipalities, is the lack of housing supply. A lack of basic supply and increased demand means a reduced housing supply which will inevitably drive the cost of housing up. The following will outline solutions across North America on increasing the housing supply.
The first factor was increasing housing construction. One of the most significant barriers to housing construction is the rising cost. According to Statistics Canada, residential building construction increased 5.6% in the first quarter of 2022, with Calgary having the highest increase at 6.9%, followed by Edmonton and Toronto, up to 6.8% (Statistics Canada, 2022b). Many municipalities have embraced modular housing to drive down the increasing cost of construction. Modular Homes are homes built indoors in a home construction factory (Quality Homes, 2020). The parts of these homes (modules) are transported to their new location and assembled by tradespeople on an already poured and treated foundation. The City of Toronto (2019), as part of its HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, has also committed to creating 1,000 modular homes in Toronto. The City of Vancouver (n.d.) has also identified modular homes as a type of housing that can be constructed more quickly and provide immediate relief to people without homes. Vancouver built around 663 units in modular housing buildings, which not only supplies housing, but also provides individuals with two meals a day, and opportunities to connect with community groups, volunteer opportunities, and social events. Vancouver identified that modular housing could be constructed in about three months on vacant, underused sites across the city and can be relocated and reconfigured to fit different locations. It can also provide immediate relief, and the right supports until permanent social housing is available. Modular housing can create a sense of community, amenity space, and connections with the neighborhood.
Another barrier to housing construction is the single-family zoning that limits the ability to increase housing units. In Toronto, 62.3% of residential land is exclusively zoned for detached houses; 80.5% in Vancouver, 67.2% in Calgary, 69.3% in Edmonton, and 45.8% in Montreal (Sun, n.d.). The City of Minneapolis identified that single-family zoning resulted in a lower supply of homes and perpetuated systematic disparities between racialized and non-racialized communities. As a result, they eliminated single-family zoning and allowed at least three residential units in each parcel of land, previously reserved for only single-family homes (Minneapolis City of Lakes, n.d.). The decrease in single-family housing enables the building of more multiunit and multi-use buildings that can allow for a greater supply of housing, resulting in greater accessibility and, in turn, greater affordability. With a change in zoning, developers can build more multi-unit homes; however, it also allows homeowners to create multi-unit homes themselves.
The City of Edmonton (n.d.a) did change some zoning areas across the city to allow for the creation of Garden Suites which are single, or two-story structures built in the back yards of single detached homes, semi-detached homes, and row houses that have their own living room, bathroom and kitchen. The City of Edmonton (n.d.b) first introduced the concept of Garden Suites in 2017 and has continued to update the bylaw as recently as 2020 to allow it to become more accessible; however, it still does not go as far as Minneapolis does in making Garden Suites an option for all houses across the city. The City of Vancouver (2021) has also created secondary dwellings; they are one of the first cities to allow two secondary dwellings on the property, one attached to the main house and the other laneway housing, which is helping to increase the supply of housing in the city.
Changing the zoning to increase housing is one step in the right direction to allow for a greater supply of housing in the market; with the rising cost of inflation and everyday financial and time commitments families are facing, finding the capital and time to develop these homes may not be feasible. The City of Pasadena in California is addressing this issue by creating an affordable housing initiative that helps homeowners with assistance in the financing, designing, permission, and constructing new Additional Dwelling Units (ADUS) (Pasadena, Department of Housing, n.d.). Another initiative that helps to combat this barrier is in Atlanta. Backyard ATL is a project undertaken by Eightvillage where they invest in additional Dwelling Units in partnership with homeowners to make ADUS more accessible to the general population (Backyard ATL, n.d.). Additional Dwelling Units increase the supply of livable homes in the market which should push down the price and make homes more affordable.
There is no one solution to the housing crisis in Canada, and this article has only addressed innovation around the lack of housing supply. There needs to be a continued conversation around other factors that impact housing affordability. Moreover, there may be lessons learned further than those found in North America. Housing is one of the most significant crises of our generation. Governments, non-profits, and private companies are doing great things to help with the housing crisis; however, it will take a lot of varied solutions and trial and error to get it right.
Note: This is an excerpt from our September 2022 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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Lexia Simmons is a certified educator with a passion for social issues. She has completed a Bachelor of Arts and Education degree and worked for non-profit, government offices, schools, and EdTech companies. Lexia aspires to use her educational background to help break down complicated policy issues into easy-to-understand parts.
Backyard ATL. (n.d.). Eightvillage. https://eightvillage.com/byatl.
City of Edmonton. (n.d.a.). Garden suites. https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/garden-suites.
City of Edmonton. (n.d.b.). In suite buildability. https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/urban_planning_and_design/garden-suite-buildability.
City of Kitchener. (December 2020). Housing for all: A blueprint for a more caring community. https://www.kitchener.ca/en/strategic-plans-and-projects/housing-for-all.aspx.
City of Toronto. (2019, December). Housing TO: 2020-2030 action plan. https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/94f0-housing-to-2020-2030-action-plan-housing-secretariat.pdf.
City of Vancouver. (2021, March 24). Laneway housing how-to guide. https://bylaws.vancouver.ca/bulletin/bulletin-laneway-housing-guide.pdf.
City of Vancouver. (n.d.). Temporary modular housing. https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/temporary-modular-housing.aspx.
Department of Finance Canada. (2022, April 7). Making housing more affordable. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2022/04/making-housing-more-affordable.html.
Minneapolis City of Lakes. (n.d.). Housing. Minneapolis 2040. https://minneapolis2040.com/topics/housing/#topic-policies-anchor.
Pasadena, Department of Housing. (n.d.). Pasadena second unit ADU program. https://www.cityofpasadena.net/housing/second-unit-adu-program/#:~:text=The%20Pasadena%20Second%20Unit%20ADU,Dwelling%20Unit%20(ADU)%20loan.
Quality Homes. (2020, February 26). What exactly does modular mean. https://qualityhomes.ca/blog/what-exactly-does-modular-mean/.
Statistics Canada. (2022a, July 21). Housing challenges remain for vulnerable populations in 2021. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220721/dq220721b-eng.htm.
Statistics Canada. (2022b, May, 5). Building construction price indexes, first quarter 2022. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220505/dq220505b-eng.htm.
Sun, Y. (n.d.). A visual guide to detached house zones in 5 Canadian cities. DataLABTO. http://www.datalabto.ca/a-visual-guide-to-detached-houses-in-5-canadian-cities/.