Housing conundrum

As a matter of public service we dedicate editorial space to all candidates allowing them to use their local voice to address party platforms.

Although people need to familiarize themselves more with candidates, this forum gives a good taste of who the person is and how they see issues.

An important question this year centred around housing and affordability. Besides lip service in recent weeks, the topic of ensuring access to housing for all hasn’t been a high priority. Low, low interest rates and a booming market certainly weren’t indicative of a problem – but for many Canadians, finding appropriate, economical housing is a real issue.

As it stands today many young people view owning a home as an almost-out-of-touch, distant dream. Even renting suitable accommodation is a struggle since rental rates have increased to compensate for higher purchase prices. It remains a perpetual cycle of grief and there are few signs it is going to get better anytime soon.

Supply – often stymied by overly complicated planning rules and development fees – is a key problem.

One strategy to squeeze more out of serviced land and subdivisions has been tightening up the frontages or encouraging in-fill lots. New cheek-to-jowl housing seems acceptable but we question if it is the best use of space let alone a chance at a satisfying lifestyle.

Many moons ago we were active in the real estate side of life in Guelph. It was that experience and exposure to some pretty basic triplexes in the city’s north end that prompted an email to a buddy in the development game. The query was – would purpose-built triplexes make sense again?

Surely three units stacked on top of each other would be a cost-effective way to build and maximize land use. To his figuring, factoring in development fees and lot prices, it would take six units minimum to make the economies of scale work. That scale creates its own set of problems, where size of lot and overall capital cost make it a bigger person’s game in terms of an investment. A smaller triplex would appeal to a smaller investor or even an owner-occupied scenario.

Driving through new subdivisions, not just here but elsewhere, it strikes us that it is very much a developer’s market where the needs of the developer supersede planning a functional community. There again, provincial mandates and regulations make it very difficult for local councils to insist on good planning that meets its community needs.

To our way of thinking if there is going to be an answer to the housing crisis it must include recognition that current methodologies are not working. For example, incorporate a law that a portion of the new lot stock should be dedicated to a pool of properly zoned multi-residential parcels.

Rather than focus on big projects or massive complexes, add within residential areas the capacity for small rental units.

One phrase that follows politicians who have been around too long is they have lost touch with common people. We tend to see it the same way. Housing is a solvable problem.

Most readers will have a story or two about friends, relatives or neighbours that are having difficulty with housing.

How about the student, fresh out of school that needs a bachelor unit to start a job? Or the young couple who have experienced a job setback and need to step away from home ownership?

How about the senior looking to downsize and spend their golden years in a managed rental setting?

Marital strife seems now a fact of life – where do separating partners and kids go to find an affordable, safe place to live?

Those are just a few examples demonstrating the extent of the housing crisis. It cuts across all demographics and it is high time efforts are made to address abysmal policy that seems far more about the system, than the people it is meant to serve.