Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 28, 2022
All parties fall short on housing crisis
When it comes to tackling the crisis of housing affordability in Ontario, pretty much everyone agrees on what must be done: build a lot more houses.
The trouble is, none of the parties asking for your vote on June 2 have a convincing plan to achieve the ambitious goals they’ve set out.
We got our hopes up earlier this year when a task force appointed by the Ford government produced an admirably clear and compact report on how to tackle the issue of supply lagging behind demand.
The panel put its finger on a key reason for the problem: the fact that municipalities typically put most of their land off-limits for anything but single-family homes.
So in too many communities, you can’t build duplexes or small apartment buildings, the so-called “missing middle” that would make cities denser by allowing a lot more units to be built.
But that would mean leaning heavily on municipalities whose councils usually speak for existing homeowners — the ones who want to preserve the “neighbourhood character” of their cities by keeping things just as they are. It’s called “exclusionary zoning.”
It was no big surprise, therefore, that when the Ford government produced a housing plan in March it conspicuously failed to address this issue head-on.
The plan made no mention of the ambitious goal the task force set out: building 1.5 million new housing units over the next decade. And it had nothing to say about exclusionary zoning.
At least the municipal affairs minister was frank about why he didn’t follow through with the task force’s key recommendation: he didn’t want to upset towns and cities. “They’re just not there yet,” he said.
He may be right. But we need to get there given how serious the national housing crisis is. Canada has the lowest average housing supply per capita among G7 nations, with 424 units per 1,000 people. That’s behind the United States and the United Kingdom. France, by comparison, leads the G7 at 540 units per 1,000. The pandemic, which allowed households to accrue record savings and saw unprecedented stimulus measures, stoked the country’s hot housing market and pushed it into utterly unaffordable territory.
Voters who want to make up their minds based at least partly on which party would best tackle the crisis of housing affordability will find more to chew on in the platforms put forward by the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens. But, on this same crucial point, the opposition parties also fall short.
On the positive side, both the NDP and Liberals include the goal of building 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years. But that won’t be achievable unless cities allow denser housing across much more of their area; the time is long gone when just building endless suburbs on empty land could be justified.
The opposition parties actually have quite a bit to say about exclusionary zoning. They clearly recognize that it’s a problem. But when it comes to actually acting on this, they’re awfully vague.
The NDP’s housing platform promises to end exclusionary zoning. How? It says it would “work with municipalities to reform land-use planning rules.” The Liberals say almost the same. They would “work with municipalities to expand zoning options.”
Clearly, none of the parties want to anger municipalities or residents who already own single-family homes in low-rise, low density neighbourhoods. It’s understandable politically, but it puts a big question mark over whether they’d be able to meet their big targets for new homebuilding.
There’s much more to housing policy, of course. The opposition parties promise to build a lot more affordable housing for those completely shut out of the market. And there’s a big difference in what they would do for renters.
The Liberals would reinstitute rent control for units built after 2018 (the PC government excluded them). The NDP would go much further and bring in rent control for all units, even if a tenant voluntarily moves.
But the key to loosening up the housing market is more houses. And right now none of the parties are really stepping up. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)