London's affordable housing progress report short on detail, say advocates

Some London housing advocates say a new city staff report paints an overly rosy picture of the progress being made to get more affordable housing units built. 

Report intended to update council on the progress of plans to build 3,000 affordable units

In this project at 356 Dundas Street, 50 of the 69 units built were rented at below market value. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Some London housing advocates say a new city staff report paints an overly rosy picture of the progress being made to get more affordable housing units built. 

In 2021, council endorsed a plan to create 3,000 affordable housing units by 2026. Mayor Ed Holder made building the units a goal in his state-of-the-city address earlier that year. 

The city also earmarked $78 million of capital funding to support the plan. 

A report coming to the city's community and protective services committee on Tuesday provides an update on the progress of the plan, including a list of how many units were delivered and in the works. 

The report says city staff are "making good progress" when it comes to creating more affordable units in London, including: 

  • 172 affordable units built or "contributed to." 
  • 614 affordable units where the city "started or guided" construction. 
  • 1,107 units "engaged in the project scoping and planning process." 
  • 848 units "being assessed and explored."

Jacqueline Thompson is the executive director of LifeSpin, a group that helps low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. While she commends the city's efforts to push for more affordable housing, she said the report lacks critical details. 

"I think the report is overly optimistic," she said.

Kristie Pagniello, executive director of Neighbourhood Legal Services, agrees there needs to be more specifics. The city defines "affordable" as 80 per cent of current market prices. This differs from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definition, which is 30 per cent of a household income before taxes. 

Pagniello says using that definition at today's market prices in London an "affordable" unit would be in the $1,450 range. But clients who use her support services typically collect less than $1,000 a month.

"These units are not going to help the people we serve at our clinic," Pagniello said in a written statement to CBC News. "Low and minimum-wage workers can't afford these prices either. In this report, staff are still referring to below-market rent as 'affordable.' It isn't."

Pagniello took issue with the plan to create 150 units through "affordable ownership."

She said this concept means that the purchase price must be 10 per cent below market resale value or have housing costs that are less than 30 per cent of the occupant's gross income.

"Given current market values for homes, increasing interest and utility rates, it is extremely unlikely that such homes could actually be affordable for the target population," Pagniello wrote.

Soaring rents and house prices in recent years — combined with stubbornly high inflation — have combined to create a housing crisis in London. 

Ways to address housing affordability were among the top issues during the municipal election campaign, which wrapped up on Monday. 

Jordan Smith is with ACORN, a group that advocates for tenants. He said the 3,000-unit target is outdated because the housing crisis has only worsened since 2021. 

"They sure make themselves sound good here, but there's a real lack of hard data," he said. 

The report outlines other efforts underway to boost the number of affordable units, including using the fees charged to developers to raise money for more affordable units and using surplus school sites for new developments. 

The report will be heard by the committee on Tuesday.