Windsor group receives $200K from federal government to launch housing supply project

A group in Windsor has received $200,000 from the federal government in support of a project aimed at tackling the nation's housing shortage. 

Project aims to create online tracking tool for additional housing units

Sarah Cipkar said she started the process of building her additional housing unit in 2019. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

A group in Windsor has received $200,000 from the federal government in support of a project aimed at tackling the nation's housing shortage. 

On Tuesday, Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk announced that Family Services Windsor-Essex (FSWE) was shortlisted for round 1 of the federal government's Housing Supply Challenge, which has several stages. The organization is one of 21 applicants that made it to this round. 

The challenge launched last fall and asked people to provide solutions that "remove or reduce barriers" affecting housing supply. FSWE's project looks at tracking and analyzing the impact of additional housing units, known as ADUs, through an online tool. 

The team at FSWE is being led by Windsorite Sarah Cipkar, planning student at the University of Toronto, and consultants at her development company, Cipkar Development. 

"I realize we just don't have a lot of good information or good data on these units, so we don't know what would be good policies, we don't know financial feasibility and even physical geography and feasibility," she told CBC News on Tuesday. 

"We don't know how many units there are in existence, how many there could be ... so we just don't really know the impact that these units can have." 

ADUs were approved by the provincial government in 2018 to increase the number of housing units in single-detached zoning districts. 

Sarah Cipkar (Jacob Barker/CBC)

This stage of the challenge lasts until the end of September and Cipkar said right now they will develop a proof of concept and implementation plan  — both will be based on local data. 

This will be submitted to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and, if approved, the project will receive funding for future stages. 

Cipkar started the process of building her own ADU outside of her home in Windsor in 2019. Once permits were obtained, it took three months to build before she could then rent out the space.

Since then, she said she's helped others in the region build their own and knows of about 10 others. 

Can ADUs be used in the fight for affordable housing? 

As for whether the units are more affordable, Cipkar said it's a toss up. 

"One perspective says that because they're cheaper to build, you can offer these at lower market rents, which is true but the other side of it is in some bigger cities these are costing ... much more than my cost to build just because of costs in a bigger city," she said. 

"There's kind of this ambiguous territory where we don't really know and so this tool will hopefully help answer that question." 

She says she thinks the units could be "really powerful" in creating more affordable housing, but the data and policies need to be in place. 

Cipkar's tool hopes to answer the following questions around these units: 

  • The quantity of ADUs, ones that are built and ones in construction. 
  • Financial and market value feasibility. 
  • Impact on the socioeconomic makeup of a region. 

FSWE has also created a working group with members from the University of Windsor, including Anneke Smit from UWindsor's Law School's Centre for Cities, Hanna Moah from the Cross Border Institute and other local residents. 

Law students from the Centre of Cities will look at the policy, financial and physical feasibility of the units, while GIS researchers from the Cross Border Institute will use data to create an online tool. 

If the tool is successful in moving to the next stage, Cipkar said they will get the scale the project nationally and receive funding for 2021 to 2023. 

At the end of it all, the 21 applicants will be dwindled down to only a few that will share $22.5 million from the federal government to implement their projects.