Who caused Canada’s housing shortage? We’re looking at you, city hall (via The Globe and Mail)

Article reposted via The Globe and Mail



A condo building under construction in Toronto on July 13.


Evan Dunfee won an Olympic bronze medal in the 50-kilometre racewalk last summer in Tokyo. This fall, the 32-year-old is running for city council in his hometown of Richmond, the fourth largest municipality in Metro Vancouver.

A top election priority is getting more housing built in a city that, like much of Canada, is a sea of low-density, detached homes. With housing a hot political issue, there’s been a tendency for politicians to promise the easy and vague – which usually involves pledging to get lots of new homes built, without specifying how.

Mr. Dunfee is getting more specific, as are some other candidates in municipal elections this month in British Columbia and Ontario. He’s talking about the mechanics of how. Among his specific ideas are loosening rules around minimum lot sizes to allow more homes on less land, ditching parking minimums and allowing townhomes to be built in older neighbourhoods.

This country’s housing problems start at city halls. Restrictive rules around what can be built where have long prevented enough construction, particularly in those places where most Canadians want to live and where most jobs are. Last week, Statistics Canada reported another national population surge, to 38.9 million, up 285,000 in just three months. Governments continue to ignore the consequences of this, with most residential land still reserved for detached homes.

Amid all this inaction, there are calls for higher levels of government to intervene, as happened last year in California – a state where bylaws that ensure little new building gets done are strangling economic growth.

Upper levels of government riding in to fix things may at times be necessary. But it’s an emergency manoeuvre. It would be better if cities tackled a problem they created.

With civic votes in B.C. and Ontario – where the housing crunch is worst – there’s a chance for a direct and detailed pitch to voters about exactly how the rules need to change, and why.

Last February, an expert panel produced an needed list of changes for the Ontario government. It was headlined with the goal of building 1.5 million new homes in a decade – double the current pace of construction. The Ford government latched onto that number, but it shelved reforms needed to make it a reality.

Pretend housing reformers embrace slogans for change, such as “missing middle.” The phrase captures a great idea, namely allowing denser and cheaper housing options, such as fourplexes and low-rise apartment buildings, in established neighbourhoods long reserved for single-family homes. But if zoning rules stay as they are, it’s just idle talk.

In Vancouver, city council recently passed a plan designed to create more density. Mayor Kennedy Stewart, running for re-election, is pitching the idea of 220,000 new homes in a decade. Great. But that can only happen with major zoning changes, and his platform doesn’t detail any. A rival party, OneCity, has pitched specific changes, such as allowing small apartment buildings throughout the city.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory is running for his third term, and started his campaign with a promise of missing-middle housing and “greater mid-range density” on major roads and areas served by transit. Again, great ideas. However, his platform is thin on details about what it all means or how it is to be achieved. Toronto has been looking at these ideas for years and, so far, not much has happened.

There’s a reason why higher levels of government are talking about seizing the reins. The likely next premier of B.C., David Eby, on Wednesday outlined a list of new density requirements for cities that the provincial government would pursue. Federally, both Liberals and Conservatives have ideas for using Ottawa’s money to force zoning reforms.

To build more housing we need to make better use of existing land. It is local political leadership in cities that can and should be taking action. Civic election day in B.C. is Oct. 15 and Ontario’s is Oct. 24. Politicians need to talk more about things such as easing up on lot sizes, so urban and, especially, suburban areas – where most land has long been reserved for low-rise homes – can welcome new housing and more people into old neighbourhoods.

It’s easy to promise “missing middle” housing. It’s easy to talk about 1.5 million new homes. But until zoning rules change, it just won’t happen.

Whose Fault Is This Housing Crisis, Anyways? Stand Up, Municipalities!

We have all heard the hopeful solutions to our national housing crisis that are being offered up by our federal and provincial governments. And we have seen the result of their past promises: an ever-deepening housing crisis.

Silent during all of these tribulations have been our municipalities – the current, true gatekeepers of housing creation. Their primary response, through the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO), has been to push the Province and the federal government to do more. At the same time, the AMO states they want more autonomy to deliver their own solutions rather than a “one size fits all” solution imposed by provincial or federal mandates. The AMO does not like LPAT (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) intervening in decision making. They want to make their own decisions without answering to another authority. They want the right to oppose new housing creation without any higher authority overruling them.

Looking into the federal and provincial efforts to stimulate housing creation, you will see that they are trying to incent municipalities to approve more housing. In the latest federal budget, $4B of the $10B announced for housing is allocated to incenting municipalities to approve more housing. In fact, it is the municipalities that are most responsible for creating the untenable situation we are in. 

Sure, the municipalities can blame Provincial legislation, such as Ontario’s Planning Act, which encourages municipalities to engage local stakeholders, which usually means NIMBYs (not in my backyard). Sure, the Province of Ontario could modify the Planning Act by reducing the ability of local stakeholders to hold up projects for extended periods and sometimes unwarranted reasons.

In my opinion, however, the biggest issue is that municipally elected officials answer to their voters more than they do to the larger community. Everyone knows that at the municipal level, homeowners are more engaged in local politics than tenants and other marginalized groups. Who shows up at Public Hearings regarding new developments? Not the people who would most benefit from new housing creation. The people who show up at Public Meetings are predominantly those who feel they would be most negatively impacted personally. This is who our municipal politicians are answering to the most, in my opinion.

Why are we letting municipally elected officials and selfish stakeholders determine our housing future? Why can’t public servants decide on new housing, just like public servants administer so many other things in our lives such as public infrastructure, health care, education and justice? Imagine local councillors having jurisdiction in those areas!

I am encouraged that all levels of government finally acknowledge that the main problem is a lack of supply. I’m also pleased that Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau are leaning on municipalities. Trudeau stated on April 13, 2022, “We know that municipalities are an essential partner in solving the housing crisis.”

We are in need of drastic leadership that is prepared to make bold decisions that will truly change our housing future. Can we really expect our housing crisis to be solved by our municipal politicians?

Tackling the Housing Crisis Head On – by Increasing Supply

Everyone has an opinion about the housing crisis we are facing in the GTA, in Ontario, and throughout most of Canada.

Recommendations run the gamut, from increased taxation, to inclusionary zoning, to freezing immigration.

Very few solutions focus on increasing supply, which is the most practical and sustainable means of addressing the demand/supply imbalance. Canada has the lowest amount of housing per capita of the G7 countries. (Source: Scotiabank, May 2021)

I believe that what we need most is a reframing of the planning process. Let the planning staff have more authority and greatly reduce the public’s power. Why should homeowners be able to impede/thwart a housing project that the planning staff supports? The public does not get to adversely affect other types of construction/development in their communities. Imagine residents being able to delay infrastructure development such as roads, antenna towers, transit, or anything other than housing which could affect their home values or their personal experiences…

Dare I say that socialism is partly to blame? Sure, it’s politically popular to let the public weigh in on the merits of development, but how likely is it that residents will support what is best for their community as opposed to what is best for them personally?

Is it not ironic that we support the creation of new housing when we aspire to it, but we fight against it once we have it for ourselves? Why is the public allowed to weigh in on what happens in their community, when it is clear that they are protecting their own interests, but not the interests of those who have the same aspirations? Why do homeowners have greater power to delay/thwart new developments more than aspiring homeowners get to support them?

It is high time that our leaders stepped up to make the difficult decisions needed to address this worsening crisis. Anything less is an abrogation of their responsibilities.

The Greater Good – The Housing Crisis and NIMBYism

We all know there is a housing crisis in Canada. It used to be concentrated in major metropolises like Toronto and Vancouver, but now it has spread like wildfire to other cities and towns. The one constant throughout is a shortage of supply driving up prices. We simply aren’t building enough to meet the burgeoning new household formation.

Most new housing is either “greenfield” or “infill.” Greenfield consumes more resources to create and it often depletes valuable agricultural lands. Infill, on the other hand, uses existing infrastructure such as roads, sewers, water supply, schools, parks, transit and so on. Infill new construction is usually deliverable more quickly, because of the aforementioned existing infrastructure. 

Here in Ontario, infill development is encouraged in provincial, regional and municipal legislation.

The reality is, however, that infill is fraught with its own unique obstacle: NIMBYism. Not as many people object to the destruction of an agricultural farm on the fringes of a community as they object to something nearby (NIMBY: not in my back yard). We all understand that.

What I did not know is that the motivations for NIMBY objection go beyond the actual infill proposal itself – they’re also rooted in jealousy and hate. The tighter the land supply, and the more onerous the approval process, the more NIMBYs figure the developers who prosper and who can navigate the complex system are most likely to be the richest and most aggressive.

“The result could be a self-fulfilling process that fulfills people’s worst expectations: communities suspicious of development clamp down on it, partly because they believe developers are rich and confrontational, and by clamping down they increase the probability that developers will be rich and confrontational.” 

This quote is from an article published on Bloomberg.com.

Most of us live in housing that was created by a profit-motivated developer, just as most of the other consumables in our lives were thus created. The disdain for developers is entrenched in our psyche – too bad we’re all paying for it and being hurt by it!

It’s Time to Speak Up and Support Rental Housing

It’s time to take action. A virtual Public Meeting has been announced by the Town of Bracebridge, and the Mayor and Council want to hear what you think about rental housing in Bracebridge.

A virtual Public Meeting will be held on July 27 to consider a zoning amendment which would allow for apartments on a 2.2-acre site on Woodward Street in Bracebridge, ON. This is your chance to make a difference and to support much-needed rental housing in Bracebridge.

Let’s Make a Difference

You may have read my recent blog post about the Ontario housing crisis and my latest initiative: proposed rental apartments in Bracebridge, ON.

If you support this project, please submit a written statement of support today to planning@bracebridge.ca. Please include your name, hometown, and reason for interest/support in the project.

Want to learn more? Read on…

I have a vision for a rental housing project on Woodward Street in Bracebridge. It seeks to address Bracebridge’s housing shortage by bringing 49 new attainable, accessible, net zero-ready, energy efficient, environmental, low impact rental units to the community. This offers a high level of social benefit and increases the rental housing options available, which is beneficial to all.

Low-impact site plan. There’s no storm water runoff or drainage from this site, which means we won’t be polluting Muskoka’s beautiful rivers and lakes. All the storm water will be managed on-site, reinvigorating the soil and preserving trees.

Trees will be preserved because the rain water is being managed and filtered on-site, so we won’t have to grade the whole site to move water. The ground and grading won’t have to be altered as much – which minimizes grading changes and therefore minimizes damage to existing vegetation and trees. This is the only way that we can save as many trees along the perimeter of the property as possible. In short, low-impact site plan with effective storm water management = fewer trees cut down!

Low-impact development is green infrastructure. It emphasizes conservation and use of on-site natural features to protect water quality. This means we’re not affecting or altering the water table.
Proposed apartment elevations
Accessible 1-bedroom ground floor 600 sq. ft. apartment
2nd + 3rd floor 2-bedroom 2-storey, 900 sq. ft. apartment
2nd + 3rd floor 2-bedroom 2-storey, 900 sq. ft. apartment

In the past 5 years (2015-2019), according to data from the Town of Bracebridge, only 22 multi-residential apartment units have been approved for construction in Bracebridge. I’m proposing to add 49, which is double the total for the past 5 years.

I’ve been asking for the Town of Bracebridge and the District of Muskoka to work with me by rezoning the 2.2 acre parcel of land to allow for the higher density I need for this new apartment rental project. I’m also going to ask for relief from development charges (levies) and building permit and other development fees.

This project has great community social benefits, and yet opposition from NIMBY neighbouring homeowners has been an issue. The development process typically addresses objections from opponents more than it addresses supporters. That may be because most development projects – especially rental construction – have more objectors (typically NIMBYs and immediate neighbours) than supporters.

I’m therefore now working to engage the people of Bracebridge and to gather public support for this project. I want to give a voice to the many unheard champions and supporters of much-needed rental housing in Bracebridge. 

I think that if local Bracebridge politicians know there’s support from the larger community, it will help them to fend off the NIMBY neighbours. I want to help the decision makers hear from supporters, and not just the neighbours who are in opposition – who are typically the only ones to show up to public meetings about new developments such as this one.

We need to do what is right for the entire community. Given the housing needs in Bracebridge, I believe that my rental concept may have more supporters than objectors.

There’s been a high level of local interest in this project, and it has been covered in several local media sources:

If you support this project, please submit a written statement of support today to planning@bracebridge.ca. Please include your name, hometown, and reason for interest/support in the project.

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