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Canadian Municipalities Forced Into Housing

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 18 July 2000 00:00

Like it or not, federal and provincial downloading has forced Canadian municipalities into the housing business. Homelessness is the most visible symptom of this shifting in responsibility but it is not the only housing problem faced by Canadians. Demand for housing suitable for single parents, elderly individuals needing supportive services and those with disabilities continues to grow.

Across Canada, municipalities fight to provide adequate housing for their citizens by turning the process that regulates real estate development into a tool to provide housing opportunities for our diverse population.

Unfortunately, many of the measures available to municipalities work best in hot markets, large developments or higher-density neighbourhoods – conditions that do not describe enough of this vast country. Municipal efforts are also frustrated when concessions made to developers are not passed on as savings to consumers. Furthermore, not every province has specific legislation to back up municipal initiatives.

However, some municipalities have winning strategies:

  • In provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, laws are in place to allow municipalities to offer developers "the carrot" of permission for larger buildings or additional density. In return, developers provide community centres, social housing units or new roads that benefit the community.

  • The City of Vancouver uses inclusionary zoning bylaws that require major developments to automatically include 20 % social housing. Many Ontario municipalities have similar land use policies. However, inclusionary zoning does not encourage developers to build since being forced to provide below-market-value housing cuts into their profits.

  • Banff, Alberta, attacked the problem of housing shortages for employees of the booming tourism industry by requiring commercial developers to contribute to a fund for affordable housing. British Columbia's hot Whistler resort area follows a similar plan. In areas struggling to attract commercial development, these extra fees may be considered counter productive.

  • In Calgary (Alberta), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), North Vancouver (B.C.), and Laval (Quebec), development fees paid by developers to cover the cost of sewers, roads, parks and other necessary services are set in proportion to the size of building lots (frontage) involved. Adjusting municipal fees for smaller lots and units encourages developers to set lower prices for smaller units and lots.

    Later this month, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) [ADD LINK], our national housing agency, plans to issue an 80-page research report entitled Municipal Planning for Affordable Housing "to better create awareness of existing measures to create new affordable housing." CMHC has combined previous research with a mail-out survey and focused workshops in 6 urban regions to identify practical measures for municipalities across Canada to use in support of local housing markets.

    Since federal and provincial governments have downloaded responsibilities for housing onto municipalities, it seems only fair that those governments help communities more effectively house their citizens without shifting all the financial burden to taxpayers.

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