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Here’s how a pair of Ontario cities are using their federal housing cash

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Flush with cash from Ottawa’s Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), cities like London and Guelph are moving ahead with new plans to build more and varied homes while Windsor continues its own efforts to address the housing affordability crisis without.

On Jan. 31, federal housing minister, Sean Fraser, officially denied the “made-in-Windsor” compromise spearheaded by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. It pitched multi-unit builds across 50 kilometres of arterial roads, four units by right along major transit routes, and a commitment to an additional 2,135 residential units over and above its anticipated development over the next three years.

“Only the most ambitious communities will receive funding,” wrote Fraser in his letter denying the application, which highlighted London — the first city to receive HAF money in Sept. 2023 — as an example of a council making the ambitious changes needed.

In his own responding letter, Dilkens called it a “disappointing message” as the city pursues its major initiatives to address the housing “predicament.”

In addition to four units by right, Fraser’s letter also made clear four storeys by right was a key “expert” inclusion in the federal government’s housing plan. In an email to CTV Windsor, a ministry spokesperson highlighted the zoning omission as a key obstacle in Windsor’s application.

“The refusal to allow four units by right on any residential property within the city was a key factor,” wrote David Harris with the ministry’s communications team.

LONDON

The city halfway between South Detroit and Toronto – received $74 million from the HAF that saw the Forest City commit to build more than 2,000 affordable homes over three years.

“Everyone understands the need for housing,” said Justin Adama, the manager of long-range planning for the City of London, in an interview with CTV Windsor. “Everyone has kids who are trying to leave the house but can’t because of the cost of housing.”

Adama says a key component of the plan is moving to four units by right that will add needed supply in low-density neighbourhoods across the city and points to zoning regulations as key in managing those future builds – noting fourplex and multi-storey construction won’t be possible everywhere.

“What we heard is much more openness to the idea of more intensity and additional units within neighbourhoods,” said Adama. “It applies four units on any residential lot but subject to the regulations that you’re in.”

Those regulations will include height controls, setback distances, and building lot coverage among several other provisions to ensure the construction is in keeping with the existing neighbourhoods.

London is also using its HAF money to incentivize office tower conversions with thousands of dollars in grants to build housing in underutilized or vacant high-rises.

“Our program proposes a grant of $20,000 for single-bedroom apartments and $28,000 for apartments for two or more bedrooms,” said Josh Morgan, London’s mayor, in his State of the City address in late January. “The opportunity to breathe new life into these buildings is immense.”

GUELPH

In Guelph, the city received $21.4 million to build 739 new affordable housing units over and above its annual average over the next three years.

Krista Walkey, the city’s general manager of planning and building services, tells CTV Windsor they plan to use the cash for an awareness program concerning multi-unit home construction, infrastructure upgrades and a Community Improvement Plan meant to help boost affordable housing in a city — like Windsor — that is among the fastest growing in the province.

An upcoming public consultation meeting will also go over the city’s four units by right zoning bylaw change that will boost the provincial government’s mandated three units by right zoning.

“The city committed to ending exclusionary zoning in April of 2023,” said Walkey. “In our low density zones you can put a single, a semi, a triplex – you can already put that today.”

Walkey points to the gentle density zoning as key to making better use of existing services, but again — like Adama — stresses regulatory provisions within the bylaw are key to ensuring the change is successful, including a contingency on service availability.

“Not every street may be able to accommodate it simply because of infrastructure constraints. If the pipe was put in in 1950, it might not be sized accordingly,” said Walkey. “If the services are adequate, it’s ideal. It capitalizes on what we have. It increases our tax base in those areas that we have our lower density neighbourhoods.”

In both London and Guelph, those zoning provisions and public feedback have given confidence to the new measures meant to help ease the housing crunch.

“We need to start to do things differently,” said Adama. “The housing market in London is completely different than what it was even five years ago so, some different approaches are required.”

WINDSOR

In an 8-3 vote on Jan. 22, council finalized its application, forgoing the four unit and four storey by right zoning across the city.

A report to council noted approximately $40 million in funding could be secured, with administration adding up to $70 million could be realized should the city meet certain housings targets.

The plan noted it would allocate “enough land to build thousands more units than required for Windsor to meet its HAF housing targets” as part of its nearly 1,000 acres designated for gentle and higher density housing.

 

According to the housing ministry, program applicants are required to meet an average annual growth rate of at least 10 per cent with the annual growth rate also exceeded 1.1 per cent.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) figures show Windsor’s housing starts are lagging behind its targets; however, the city contests those figures, instead pointing to building permits as a better metric to judge its work on housing.

CMHC reports the city only permitted 346 units in 2023 of its 953-unit target for the year. The city reports it issued permits for 1,154 units for 2023 and argues it can’t control when developers ultimately begin to build.

CITY STATEMENT

The City of Windsor continues to make progress towards reaching our assigned housing targets as approved by City Council. Council has supported streamlining administrative processes to reach the goal of 13,000 homes by 2031, as articulated in their Housing Pledge made in 2023.

Several of the initiatives proposed in the Housing Accelerator Fund application, which was supported by City Council, are being actioned by Administration to support intensification in areas of the city that can support such development. For example, an Affordable Housing Community Improvement Plan, and zoning bylaw changes to support intensification in proximity to existing transit routes.

City Administration continues to pursue all funding opportunities to reduce the burden on municipal taxpayers and support new housing growth in our community.

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