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!

Building Boom? I Think Not!

2019 building levels in the GTA are comparable to 1990s levels – it’s astonishing. Let’s hope that the current/upcoming recession/depression/immigration decrease/foreign investment decrease aren’t how we solve this longstanding supply problem.

Building boom? I think not!

One of the benefits of aging is having a longer history of experiences. I remember the housing recession in the early 1990s – it’s when I lost my job and my house. This was a period of housing stagflation (persistent high inflation combined with high unemployment and stagnant demand) in the GTA. 1995 was the worst year for housing completions in the 1990s.

A comparison of early 1990s with 2019 is truly astounding. Thank you, Ben Myers from Bullpen Consulting, for the outstanding data!

  • The total amount of square footage built in 2019 is comparable to what was being built annually in the early 1990s.
  • The number of bedrooms built in 2019 is the lowest in the past 22 years, and is comparable to 1990s levels.

The main cause of the GTA housing problem has not changed in decades! We are simply not building enough homes. Supply is sorely lacking. All levels of government are contributing to this problem, and none have been able to make any meaningful improvements.

We can expect this situation to deteriorate before it improves, if past performance is any indication.

The most likely thing to ease the problem is a total collapse in demand as a result of (take your pick(s)) recession/depression/immigration decrease/foreign investment decrease. All of these reductions in demand have significant adverse impacts on the economy. Let’s hope this isn’t how we solve the supply problem. I would love to see policy changes from all levels of government. That is the solution.

I’d love to hear your take on this issue. Comment below or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn to join the conversation.

Pushing for Progress: Tackling the Housing Crisis in Bracebridge

My latest project in the works in Bracebridge, ON – developing and building rental apartments – is attempting to address Muskoka’s housing crisis.

The housing crisis in Ontario is well-documented. From Toronto and the GTA to other southeastern areas of the province like Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, Peterborough, Barrie, Muskoka and beyond, there’s a serious shortage of housing – and especially low-priced, attainable and affordable housing. A growing population, increasing costs of home ownership, a lack of well-paid and secure jobs, and increasing numbers of single-person households are all contributing to the crisis.

There’s especially a shortage of rental apartments, because the incentives for builders and developers to create rental housing have been very low since the 90s, and the government hasn’t been able to do it on their own. In Toronto, we’ve seen a proliferation of condos, which have higher profit margins for builders. In regions like Muskoka, rentals haven’t been built because of zoning restrictions, prohibitive development costs and government limitations.

Tackling the Housing Crisis

I’ve written about this problem before. (Check out my blog post “Getting to the Bottom of Ontario’s Rental Problem”.) To increase rental supply, I think the best solution is for the private sector (people like me!) to work with government.

This is being done sporadically, but many are skeptical about private/public partnerships, especially with developers.

However, we can all see that neither government nor the private sector alone has been able and/or willing to build sufficient rental housing. Working together is the only way to improve our housing crisis.

My Latest Initiative: Proposed Rental Apartments in Bracebridge

I’ve recently encountered this problem directly in Bracebridge, ON (Muskoka), where I’ve been trying to stir things up by pushing forward an exciting new project.

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.

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.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Comment below or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn to join the conversation!

Mattamy Limits Over-Eager New Home Buyers

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Wow! We’ve never seen this before in the new home industry. A marketing email from Mattamy Homes that recently landed in my inbox caught my attention. The email was about a new release of homes for sale at Mattamy’s Hawthorne South Village community at Sixteen Mile Creek in Milton. In the list of rules and information about the new release and registration for it, this item was included:

“Previous Buyers With Pending Agreements Of Purchase & Sale With Mattamy Homes Are Not Eligible To Purchase. We Thank You For Your Interest.”

Mattamy Homes is not allowing existing buyers of unclosed Mattamy homes to buy any more new homes.

Mattamy has historically been a price leader. They have attracted more than their share of investors. Their main concern now is that buyers of multiple homes may not be able to close – the buyers may be able to come up with a deposit, but they need/want price to be up at closing. Mattamy sees that prices are not going up these days, so the likelihood of the homes they sold appreciating before closing is small. Therefore, buyers of multiple homes may be biting off more than they can chew, which will ultimately affect Mattamy.

This is a statement by Mattamy that they see market staying flat and/or their buyers not being financially able to close on multiple homes.

(Read my recent blog post, 2019 Toronto Housing Market: A Year of Opportunity?, for more info on the current state of the market.)

What are your thoughts? Comment below or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn to join the conversation!

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