Lessons and Insights from Municipal Housing Strategies in Ottawa, Montreal, and St. John’s

Written by Alya Alterkawi

October 4, 2021

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA) presented a webinar in September about the housing strategies that different municipalities have adopted to promote the development of safe and affordable housing for their communities, with municipal representatives speaking from Ottawa, Montréal, and St. John’s. This post will go over the key lessons and insights provided by the speakers, in the context of their respective municipalities.

Ottawa, Ontario – Mathieu Fleury

Mathieu Fleury began by highlighting that about 13,000 residents are currently on waiting lists for affordable housing, with the numbers of people sleeping in motels and shelters currently at about 2,000, and continuing to increase. With the number of encampments increasing and shelters being under a lot of pressure, there is a concerning lack of emphasis on creating more affordable housing. As a result of this, the majority of shelter residents are making them their homes instead of using them as a temporary solution. In 2020 alone, the city spent $38 million to keep people in motels and shelters, with only $15 million being spent on new affordable housing construction. This becomes problematic as less resources are being invested into immediate solutions like affordable housing, and more pressure ends up being diverted onto the emergency shelters.

The proposed solutions are:

  • Working with indigenous local organizations to find urban solutions for indigenous housing.
  • Implementing the Housing First strategy by combining permanent housing with supports such as mental health services.
  • Matching the amount spent yearly on affordable housing with the amount spent on shelters.

Fleury then highlighted the role that Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) could play:

  • OCH is looking at moving away from year to year RFPs, which only produced about 40-60 units a year.
  • A goal over the next 10 years to build 10,000 units in mixed-income, mixed-development environments.
  • OCH providing housing at market rent, below market rent, rent geared to income, all while creating complete communities, and meeting passive house standards.
  • Working with tenants and stakeholders to make sure nobody is moved out of their communities, while providing assistance with reintegrating people into the new households built in their communities.
  • OCH has the capacity to build 1,000 units a year with less than $30 million a year in equity. Implementing additional programs is required in order to facilitate public housing providers like OCH to expand their equity goals and build more affordable housing in medium to large cities.

Montréal, Québec – Craig Sauvé

Craig Sauvé discussed Montréal’s rising challenges in relation to its affordable neighborhoods, such as a higher demand for social housing, rapid increases in prices, diminishing affordable rental stock, and a shortage in availability for larger family size units, and currently 20,000-22,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing. The city of Montréal’s also wants to reverse urban sprawl and protect farmlands from being taken over by developments and suburbs by allowing people to stay in the city.

The proposed solutions are:

  • Put together the Bylaw for Mixed Metropolis, an inclusionary zoning bylaw that creates regulations for implementing affordable social and family housing in the private sector.
  • The city is actively buying more land to create more social housing before developers take it over for more expensive units.
  • Creating partnerships with groups in housing sectors that specialize in social housing.
  • Promoting improved housing sanitation by investing money into hiring more inspectors and holding landlords accountable for fulfilling their roles in providing a clean and healthy living environment for their tenants, while also providing social workers to accompany the inspectors to make tenants feel more empowered and comfortable with the process.
  • Implementation of “Operation 12,000” Going for 6,000 social housing units and 6,000 affordable units.
  • Creating $10 million yearly fund for housing innovation and new projects for clients that are not eligible for existing programs.
  • Implementing programs for the preservation of existing affordable housing units by renovating and sanitizing them.
  • Providing subsidy programs for first time home buyers to keep young families in Montréal.

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador – Krista Gladney

Krista Gladney explained that with affordable housing costing less than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income, 1 in 4 households are found to be living in unaffordable housing. Similar to other municipalities, the wait list for social housing is increasing continually. The city of St. John’s goals for housing include providing more housing choices for different income levels, improving community health, and fostering sustainable growth and economic security.

The model for achieving these goals follows 6 strategic directions:

  • Unlocking Resources, which involves making the most of the City’s resources to improve housing initiatives, such as establishing an Interdepartmental Committee for development, evaluating city-owned vacant land for potential redevelopment, and creating a Civic Housing Action Fund.
  • Building Homes, which would increase the availability of affordable homes and rentals. This can be better facilitated by making sure tenants are well informed of their rights, educating and enforcing property standards, and increasing the city-owned supply of affordable housing.
  • Leading Innovation, by inspiring creativity in affordable housing projects, and achieving this by providing Housing Catalyst grants, implementing the Energy Efficiency Pilot Project, and looking into a future Housing Design Competition.
  • Revitalizing Policy, which would create municipal policies and plans that would better provide affordable housing for those who need it. Further, this would see the creation of more mixed-use development, higher density development in residential zones, and ensure new developments meet public transit infrastructure requirements.
  • Cultivating Partnership, which involves working collaboratively with all levels of government and private partners to tackle housing challenges.
  • Informing Action, by providing housing needs assessments every 3 years, and educating communities about the importance of addressing housing needs for their health, sustainability, economic security, and overall well-being. This would further serve the purpose of discouraging NIMBYism.

Speakers:

  1. Mathieu Fleury, Ottawa City Councillor for Rideau-Vanier & Chair, Ottawa Community Housing
  2. Craig Sauvé, Associate Councillor to the Executive Committee for Housing, City of Montreal
  3. Krista Gladney, Affordable Housing & Development Facilitator, Department of Community Services, City of St. John’s

A recording of the webinar can be viewed here on CHRA’s website.

 

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Alya Alterkawi

October 4, 2021