What can London do to up affordable housing? City staff made a list

The challenge of how to increase the number of affordable housing units is before London's planning committee Monday as it's presented with a staff report outlining an inventory of options.

The staff report includes allowing developers to build taller if they include affordable units

A rendering of an affordable housing complex currently under construction at 356 Dundas Street (London Housing Development Corporation)

It's one thing to talk about affordable housing, and quite another to build it. 

The challenge is before London's planning committee Monday as it's presented with a staff report outlining a list of options for increasing the number of affordable units.

The 13-page report outlines a variety of "tools" at the city's disposal, including making it a requirement for developers to include appropriately priced homes in newly built or refurbished units. 

It's known as "inclusionary zoning" and it was made an option for municipalities when Ontario introduced new legislation in 2016. 

"We're at a crucial point in time in London right now," said Coun. Stephen Turner, chair of the planning committee.

"Vacancy rates are around 1.8 per cent in the city and over the past few years, we've seen a 35 per cent increase in housing prices." 

Referring to it as a "perfect storm" for need, Turner said the report will act as an important guide as neighbourhoods such as SoHo and the Hamilton Road area undergo revitalization. 

"Being able to use 'bonusing' in places where we want to encourage mixed-used communities will allow us to get the best returns for rent-payers."

Bonus zoning or "bonusing" allows developers to build taller or increase the density of a project in return for including affordable housing, childcare facilities or other community benefits. 

Stark situation

One in five kids in London reside in a household that makes barely enough to live on, according to the latest census data, while approximately 81,000 citizens are considered low-income. 

Turner explains the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was created just over two years ago to encourage construction of new affordable homes.

Current HDC projects include 33 one-bedroom units in the former Honest Lawyer bar on Dundas Street, as well as a multi-story building, also on Dundas West, between Waterloo and Colborne streets. 

"I'm looking to see if we can bring forward more options to bolster [HDC] and to accelerate the development of more affordable housing." 

City staff included an additional nudge for affordable housing, noting that building it will lead to urban regeneration, more green space and increased public transit use.

It will be up to London's new council to take the inventory of tools presented to the committee and develop a strategy for using them.

The London Plan — developed three years ago by the outgoing council — had envisioned that 25 per cent of all new housing developments across the city include affordable units.