Mixed-use developments make housing more expensive, says study

A University of Waterloo study from the school of planning shows that only those with more money benefit from the increasing efforts to bring mixed-use developments to cities.

University of Waterloo study shows people on low wages don't benefit from mixed-used housing

Construction is ongoing at 100 Victoria St. S., which is proposed to be a mixed-use development with two residential towers above ground-floor offices and coffee shops. (Momentum Developments)

There has been a push to increase density in parts of Waterloo region and promote active transportation through the use of mixed-use development housing. But could it be making things too expensive?

A new study by a School of Planning researcher at University of Waterloo shows mixed-use development might be increasing income inequality.

Data collected between 1991 and 2006 in Toronto showed that housing options in mixed-use zones — those mixing residential and commercial properties — continued to be less affordable than housing in other parts of the city.

"Walking to a nearby fancy coffee shop is nice but the premium people pay for that luxury means the barista can't afford to live near their job," Markus Moos, the lead researcher, said in a news release.

While mixed-use development was promoted with the intention of reducing urban sprawl and making life more active and more vibrant for people living there, only a very specific group are able to benefit from it. And it's not people living on low income.

Findings of the study showed that housing affordability only improved for people who were already able to pay higher housing costs. Those people worked in management, business, technical and health industries.

"Housing affordability, however, stagnated or worsened for those working in social and public service, trades, cultural, sales and service, and manufacturing occupations," the study said.

Introduce good policies

Brian Doucet, an urban planning professor at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview with CBC News in October last year that developers need to consider options like co-op housing and social housing facilities with the arrival of the LRT this year.

"So not just building small condos that either appeal to young professionals or retirees," he said.

Inclusionary zoning is one thing that can help introduce better housing affordability for those living on low income, said Doucet, an idea also endorsed by the researchers of this new study.

Moos said having policies such as inclusionary zoning and housing trusts are important to keep things affordable, especially where the region has shifted to a "knowledge-based economy."

"While mixed-use areas were intended to make things more affordable, factors such as the shift to a knowledge-based economy reduced social diversity in the absence of policies designed to keep housing affordable," he said.

The study by Moos, Tara Vinodrai, Nick Revington and Michael Seasons is published in the Journal of the American Planning Association in the first issue of 2018.