Housing crisis

Lehman, Watson: To solve the housing crisis, bring all the actors around the table

There are too many separate working groups, summits and programs going on right now at all three levels of government.

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Ontario is in the midst of a housing crisis as prices continue to soar year after year. People in our province should have the choice to live close to work and family, just like generations before them. But for too many of them, the housing crisis has already made that choice for them. Tragically, as these problems ripple through the housing market, rents have skyrocketed, pushing people living in precarious housing into homelessness.

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So how do you resolve this situation? How do you curb an uncontrollable and artificially inflated real estate market without creating winners and losers?

Before solving the problem, we must first understand it. Housing is a complex issue and defies simple answers. Economist Mike Moffatt’s research points to several factors that have led to a mismatch between housing supply and demand in Ontario. Ontario has experienced accelerated population growth in recent years, with our population growing by one million people in the past five years, compared to 600,000 in the previous five years. Moffatt estimates this created a demand for 430,000 homes during this period, but only 330,000 homes were completed. We are 100,000 houses short. Indeed, analysis of major Canadian banks indicates a national housing shortage over the past five years.

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Added to this challenge is the impact of investment purchases and the availability of cheap credit, which means that those with the financial resources are able to drive up the prices of purchases. Layer on the impact of COVID-19 driving demand out of the Greater Toronto Area at a time when capital was available for investment due to underutilization of other goods and services. Finally, material supply and labor shortages are rapidly driving up the cost of construction, especially in the past two years.

This created a perfect real estate storm. And while it might be tempting to blame municipalities for adding to the pain with slow approval processes or fees, there’s a lot more going on. In fact, a survey of Ontario’s largest municipalities suggests there are at least 250,000 new homes and apartments that were approved in 2019 or earlier but have yet to be built. Although approval processes are only a small part of the overall cost of housing, auditing municipal and provincial processes can yield positive results, but we also need to look at why approved units are not being built.

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We must bet on economic levers; measures that reduce housing costs by a few thousand dollars will have no impact in the face of current price increases.

We need more pragmatic and impactful solutions, based on a healthy economy. This means we need to focus on the economic levers; measures that reduce housing costs by a few thousand dollars will have no impact in the face of current price increases. Municipalities, the province and the federal government must change the economics of development to encourage affordable built forms – particularly the “missing middle” (medium density) which could include street apartments, purpose-built rental housing medium and high density in urban areas. centers, and a soft density in the neighborhoods.

What will that do? We will need a unified intergovernmental approach in 2022. There are too many separate working groups, summits and programs going on right now at all three levels of government. Instead, we all need to be at the same table: federal, provincial, municipal, the homebuilding industry and those who control capital. All three levels of government must work together to support and plan for solutions such as immigration through a housing strategy for new Canadians, which becomes part of the immigration system. The offer must be adapted to population growth. And for those for whom the cost of housing is completely prohibitive, we will have to continue to invest in subsidized and social housing, as both the provincial and federal governments have done.

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Finally, we need local implementation of housing solutions. Every community in Ontario is unique and while we all need to do more to meet our growing populations, the solutions will be different in Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Tillsonburg and Toronto. Elected city councils must have the political will to implement change because they are closest to their communities and have a better understanding of what will work. Respecting local decision-making will increase the chances of success as we increase the supply of housing in Ontario.

We know how our population is growing, we know how our workforce is changing. Let’s take these numbers and prepare our communities to be able to house more people, in a coordinated and thoughtful way.

Jeff Lehman is the Mayor of Barrie and Chair of Ontario’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus, which is made up of the mayors of Ontario’s 29 largest municipalities, including the Mayor of Ottawa jim watson.

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