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Housing and transportation: together again

Housing and transportation infrastructure have made major impacts on the social and spatial geography of our towns and cities. While there are many examples of the two being planned together, researchers tend to work in separate silos. The recent trend towards planning for more sustainable cities has produced a number of policy initiatives to join the two areas. In the US, the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are establishing a Sustainable Communities Initiative that will offer grants to metropolitan areas to coordinate land use and transportation planning, promote livability and transit-oriented development. In Canada, the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) just launched EQuilibrium, will provide financial, technical and promotional assistance to neighbourhood development projects across the country chosen through a national competition. Community projects will be evaluated on energy; land use and housing; water, waste water and stormwater; transportation; natural environment; and financial viability. A brief look at planning documents at the City of Toronto, City of Brampton, Peel Region, and the Province of Ontario, highlights housing and transportation policies and the attempt to integrate these areas.


Housing has long been a major issue for the City of Toronto. The City’s Perspectives on Housing Tenure (2006) notes the need for more rental housing, particularly considering its role as the major immigrant reception area in Canada: 45% of Toronto’s immigrants live in rental housing, and 74% of recent immigrants who arrived less than two years ago. Younger households also place a strong demand on rental housing. Yet rent has become increasingly unaffordable since few new rental buildings have been built since the passing of the Condominium Act in 1976: from 1996-2006, only 5% of new housing built was rental. Rental conversion to condos is also a major issue: like other municipalities in Canada, the City of Toronto has placed strong controls on rental conversion.

In 2003, the City of Brampton endorsed a Municipal Housing Capital Facilities By-law, one of the prerequisites for the Region of Peel to receive its share of $680 million in federal affordable housing grants. The by-law would allow the Region of Peel to access both federal and provincial funds and enter into other incentive agreements with housing providers to develop affordable housing. Brampton’s Official Plan (2008) asserts the goal to provide for a range of housing opportunities (types, densities, tenure, and cost) to meet the diverse needs of people from various social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. They prescribe residential density (ranging from 30 units/acre to 200 units/acre) and mix (upscale executive and single detached to apartments and maisonettes) (Policy They may require developers to provide affordable housing and prioritize applications for affordable housing (


Transportation has also been a major issue in the City of Toronto, with its plethora of subway, streetcar, and bus routes. Toronto’s Transit City Plan (2006), with plans to build seven new LRT lines, is approved and funded by the Province of Ontario and linked to the Big Move, a larger plan being developed by Metrolinx, the regional transit authority. Under this plan, the region plans to construct to more than 1200 km of rapid transit lines, enabling 80% of people living in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Region (GTHA) to be within 2km of rapid transit.

The City of Brampton’s Strategic Plan outlines its commitment to new roads, trails, better transit service and seamless connections to popular destinations in the Greater Toronto Area. Peel Region has an Official Plan objective to achieve a sustainable land use and transportation system, and Brampton’s Official Plan designates Bus Rapid Transit, Primary and Secondary Transit Corridors (

Housing + Transportation

The City of Toronto has a strong tradition of integrating housing with transportation, including aggressive marketing of air rights and available excess land parcels by the TTC, density bonus around subway stations, and city zoning classification changes around transit stations to permit higher density development. Recent efforts to plan more sustainable cities have continued to link housing and transportation infrastructure. The City’s Official Plan (2006) identifies “the Avenues”, underused lands along Toronto’s arterial roads in commercial and mixed-use areas, for future growth. These “offer the opportunity to increase the number of people living along major transit routes and to make use of underutilized infrastructure.”

The City of Brampton’s Official Plan includes an objective to “promote the development of an efficient transportation system and land use patterns that foster strong live-work relationships and encourage an enhanced public transit modal share.” It encourages “higher density mixed use of development along major streets to make transit a more practical choice for commuters” and “an integrated land use and transportation plan that provides a balanced transportation system giving priority to public transit and pedestrians and creating complete communities (compact, transit-oriented, and pedestrian-friendly with a mix of uses and a variety of housing choices, employment, and supporting services and facilities)”. They have a policy supporting transit-supportive nodes (3.2.2,, mixed-use, higher-density areas with good road and transit facilities), transit-oriented infill (3.2.5) along corridors, and higher density development at GO Transit stations (

The Province of Ontario introduced the Places to Grow Act in 2005; the act identifies 25 downtown areas as urban growth centres, setting minimum density targets to encourage revitalization. However, without planning for rental and affordable housing, this initiative will only encourage high-priced condo development in these areas.

While there is undoubtedly still work to be done, as policy does not always translate into practice, this short examination of planning documents shows that there is some effort to link housing and transportation in planning more sustainable cities.


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