Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday October 25, 2022
Municipal action on affordable housing is in everyone’s interest
The affordable housing crisis in Canada is putting people on the streets or forcing them to live in inadequate or even dangerous housing.
Because this crisis is caused by several complex and interrelated factors, it unfortunately can’t be solved with a single magic bullet. We urgently need to accelerate action on affordable housing on four fronts: the construction, acquisition and retention of affordable housing, and housing supports.
The National Housing Strategy is a great leap forward in Canadian housing policy. Much of the funding goes directly to municipalities for construction of new, affordable rental housing units, primarily built and managed by the non-profit sector.
Municipalities need to find ways to accelerate affordable housing construction by streamlining the planning approval process, providing land for affordable housing, reducing or creatively financing development charges — a major cost driver — and helping non-profit organizations develop more homes faster.
But most “affordable” rental housing in Canada (i.e., places with modest rent) is in private market buildings. We can’t possibly build new affordable housing fast enough to compensate for the simultaneous loss of affordable market housing.
As a result of processes that inflate rents, the loss of affordable market rental housing has accelerated over the last several years. From 2011-2016, Canada lost 322,000 homes renting for under $750 per month. This extended to a further loss of 230,000 units under $750 from 2016-2021.
Investors seek buildings with below-market rents. As tenants leave (either forcibly or by attrition), owners can substantially increase rents. This inflation is made possible by vacancy decontrol, where rent is only regulated if the same tenant stays in a unit. Once a tenant vacates, rent can raised to whatever the market will bear.
To help preserve affordable properties, non-profit organizations need tools for acquiring existing market rental housing with modest rents. This is much faster than new construction, helps mitigate the erosion of affordable housing stock and avoids the sometimes slow processes for new construction. (The Toronto Star)