Region of Waterloo staff agree with some, but not all, recommendations from Housing Affordability Task Force

Last month, the province's Housing Affordability Task Force released 55 recommendations to boost housing supply in Ontario, which, in theory, would rein in costs. Region of Waterloo staff and a University of Waterloo professor weigh in on what it will take to build more affordable housing.

Provincially appointed task force calls for building 1.5 million new homes in next decade

The provincially appointed Housing Affordability Task Force suggests boosting the supply of housing in Ontario will help rein in soaring home prices. Region of Waterloo staff say they agree with some of the task force's recommendations — but not all. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Region of Waterloo staff are wary about some of the recommendations by a provincially appointed task force on affordable housing, which has called for the construction of 1.5 million new homes in the next decade as a means of reining in soaring home prices. 

The Housing Affordability Task Force released 55 recommendations last month that include: 

  • Increasing density in neighbourhoods zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
  • Repealing municipal policies that focus on preserving a neighbourhood's character.
  • Setting uniform provincial standards for urban design, including building shadows and setbacks.
  • Limiting the time spent consulting the public on housing developments.

In a report going before regional council Wednesday evening, staff say they support some recommendations in principle, like getting rid of exclusionary zoning.

But they say public policy must balance the need to increase the supply of housing with the preservation of historical buildings and the "vibrancy and character" they bring to a neighbourhood. 

Staff are also concerned about a recommendation to build new housing on undeveloped land outside municipal boundaries.

While it could make sense, in some cases, to streamline the process of public consultation ahead of new development, staff say robust consultation is still necessary and important. 

Ryan Mounsey, the region's manager of affordable housing development, said in an interview that it's "a delicate balance" between making it easier and more time efficient get approvals for housing while also engaging with the neighbourhoods and with the communities that these projects will be moving into.

The regional staff report can be read in full online, beginning on Page 73. 

Prof suggests better funding for 'missing middle' housing

Dawn Parker, a University of Waterloo planning professor, also has concerns about the task force's report. She said it assumes the main barriers to building affordable housing are objections from neighbours and the planning process itself  — when that isn't necessarily the case.

"There appears to be no single cause for our housing affordability crisis," Parker told CBC K-W. 

"Certainly there are many supply side barriers — perhaps some of them on the planning and zoning side — but many on the housing finance side, risk perceptions of developers, construction costs and price uncertainty, and even more beyond that."

Parker also noted that adding density won't, by itself, make housing cheaper. She pointed to the City of Kitchener, where the development of high-rise buildings along the ION LRT tracks hasn't made much of a dent in the city's affordability problem. 

That's in part because high rise buildings cost about two and half times as much to build compared to low-rise buildings, Parker said. 

What could help make housing more affordable, she said, is filling in the gaps of the "missing middle" in Waterloo region housing — such as small apartment buildings, row houses and townhouses. 

In order to increase the local supply of "missing middle" housing, Parker said the region could use non-profit financing and municipal land to build housing and demonstrate its success to future developers. 

She also suggested streamlining the planning process for multi-family homes. Municipalities could work with developers on a template of a fourplex housing complex, for example, that could be more quickly approved or pre-approved.  

"That would speed things up," she said. 

LISTEN | UW planning Prof. Dawn Parker on what will it really take to build more affordable housing:

With files from Mike Crawley