CMHC conducted 10 roundtables on barriers to affordable housing last year, in order to update its Corporate Strategy to reach its 2030 goal of everyone having a home they can afford. The CMHC Planning and Research Advisory Committee, and SHS Consulting, are presenting their preliminary results today, so I’ll be live blogging.
The roundtables were held in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Northern Ontario, Southern Ontario, Greater Toronto Area, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Alberta, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. BC was omitted because there had already been research done in the province. A total of 93 individuals participated, with the majority from municipal/provincial/territorial government and non-profit housing providers.
Overall, there are some similarities across provinces, but the three territories are facing challenges that are unique from each other and the provinces. There were nine key challenges:
- Community opposition is consistently experienced across Canada, but differs across communities, e.g. anything outside of single-family housing provokes opposition in Ontario, while in NWT it’s mostly in larger cities and mostly in response to social housing. Supportive housing, Indigenous housing providers, and visible minority groups faced the most opposition. Solutions: Collaboration, early engagement, clear and consistent messaging, and involving people who aren’t normally consulted, are key to addressing the issue. Public education (e.g. through CMHC) on housing and its impact on property values would save private and non-profit developers time and money, or seed money could be provided. Some suggestions included delegating authority to municipal administrators instead of councils, scaling community engagement across neighbourhoods instead of in specific ones, and removing certain types of projects from public consultation processes to eliminate discrimination.
- Development costs can negatively impact affordability, and technical research requires a lot of expertise. Rising construction and labour costs have also caused delays and increases costs–and time-limited construction in the territories is a significant barrier. Solutions: Financing should be adjusted to reflect the history of low risk within community housing development (e.g. in Quebec). Surplus lands for affordable housing and waiving development charges are used in many jurisdictions.
- Navigating planning systems is time-consuming and costly for developers, particularly in Yukon and Nunavut. Solutions: Better coordination across planning systems to support affordable housing developments, dedicated teams to help non-profits navigate the system, development application review timelines (e.g. Northern Ontario, Calgary) are currently being used.
- Zoning can be an enabler and a barrier to affordable housing. Exclusionary zoning (especially preventing supportive housing), boundary lines, restrictive growth policies, and parking requirements can create challenges. Inclusionary zoning isn’t a silver bullet and wasn’t a main focus of discussions. Solutions: pre-zoning lands to facilitate affordable housing, broad blanket zoning policies, increasing the use of mixed-use zones which could reduce opposition, reducing exclusionary zoning and allowing different forms as-of-right (e.g. Calgary, Edmonton), reducing parking requirements (e.g. Edmonton is the first Canadian city to eliminate them altogether) or receiving exemptions (Saskatchewan and Manitoba).
- Data gaps and misalignment between supply and need is a main barrier in rural areas–without enough information, programs and policies are effectively designed in a vacuum. Communities need to know whether they need large units for families or more units for students, culturally appropriate housing in areas with high Indigenous populations, etc. Solutions: Governments need to enhance availability of data, frequency and depth, plus support for municipalities to meet any requests for data collection. Establishment of affordable housing targets based on needs seems like a no-brainer.
- The role of non-profits are very important but face capacity gaps and disproportionate challenges in planning, e.g. it’s very difficult for them to compete with private-sector developers or spend enough on community consultation. Solutions: Calgary, Moncton, Province of NS have now land disposition strategies to benefit non-profits, Halifax is waiving construction fees for non-profits.
- Post-construction barriers include high costs associated with operations, maintenance, and tenant support. Utility costs are a main one across the country, and non-profits in particular spoke about the need for tenant support as their tenants tend to be higher in need. Property taxes are a major barrier for non-profits, threatening their viability and expansion. Solutions: property tax exemptions and incentives for non-profits, fairer treatment of non-profits in terms of tax calculation (e.g. they can’t charge market rents).
- Preserving affordable housing options is challenging. Non-profit buildings are aging and there isn’t money to address maintenance–some have had to sell off buildings to pay building upkeep. The affordable housing units lost are often not replaced. Rental Replacement programs (e.g. in Ontario) can work but are now at risk in Ontario. Solutions: initiatives aimed at protecting existing affordable stock, e.g. Moncton incentivizes private developers to support the repair and renewal of stock, have had success. Acquisition funds for non-profits to acquire existing stock are also working, e.g. Nova Scotia provides 95% financing for non-profits to buy existing stock, but still face challenges in raising the 5%.
- Market factors, including the financialization of the housing market including discrimination against low-income tenants, and high rents have outpaced government subsidy programs. Real estate speculation is rampant. Solutions: promoting the concept of housing as a human right by all levels of government, including public education.
None of this is surprising–so it remains to be seen how these findings will impact CMHC’s programs or initiatives.