In rapidly growing cities, housing markets can intensify affordability issues, particularly for individuals and families living on low incomes. Redevelopment, infill and intensification, particularly in the form of upscale medium and high rise condominiums, can involve the demolition or conversion of existing affordable rental stock and drive up land and property values, placing upward pressure on housing prices and rents. In areas like Centretown, Westboro, Hintonburg and Vanier, new development has accelerated gentrification such that these neighbourhoods, once home to some of the city’s poorest residents, are observing a decline in affordable housing options as intensification proceeds apace. This trend is likely to worsen as new transit-oriented development moves forward with the completion of the Confederation Line and the future expansion of Ottawa’s light rail transit system.
Unfortunately, in Ottawa, the potential impact of new development on housing affordability, neighbourhood diversity and inclusion are not considered at front end of municipal decision-making, as part of regular planning and development approvals processes. Neither are these impacts tracked in any meaningful way following the completion of new large-scale development projects in different parts of the city. In this respect, Ottawa could learn something from our neighbours to the south.
A number of major U.S. cities are passing legislation requiring Affordable Housing Impact Statements (AHIS) in order to identify, track and evaluate the impact of proposed new development, zoning or land use changes on the present and future supply, demand and affordability of housing within their jurisdictions (Asante 2003; Cardinale 2014). Like an economic impact statement or an environmental impact statement – which, respectively, describe the impact of a proposal on the local economy or environment – an AHIS is a statement that describes the impact of a proposal on a jurisdiction’s affordable housing stock (Cardinale 2014, p.8).
Two of the most notable jurisdictions to institutionalize AHIS’s are San Diego, California and Austin, Texas. Adopted in 2007, AHIS’s are mandatory in Austin, while San Diego has an older discretionary measure dating back to 1999, in the form of a memorandum within its Planning and Development Services Departments. In both, they are an integral part of the review process for master plans, development proposals, policy initiatives and regulations (Asante 2003).
In both cities, impact statements are used to: a) proactively prevent immediate and future losses of existing housing stock; b) identify opportunities to expand the future supply of affordable housing; and c) identify opportunities to reduce gentrification pressures (Asante 2003, p.1). The requirement to produce AHIS’s means that municipal staff is assigned a permanent and consistent responsibility to monitor housing supply and affordability at a neighbourhood and urban scale.
In terms of implementation, Austin’s Impact Statements require an evaluation of the following:
For proposals to construct new housing:
- The types of housing proposed
- Number of units to be created
- Anticipated price or rent of new units
- Impacts on the supply of housing available to low and moderate incomes households
- Availability of inclusionary housing
- Number of units to be demolished or replaced (if applicable) etc.
- Proposed density in relation to existing density
For proposals that do not include housing, it could include:
- Anticipated housing demand created by the proposal (e.g. service workers etc.)
- Affordability level of housing needed to service demand
- Feasibility of adding a housing component to the proposed project
- Amount of housing that appears feasible on the property
- Jobs/housing balance
For fee, regulation, policy or other proposals:
- Impact on cost of housing
- Impact on project processing times
- Estimated housing gains or losses per year resulting from policy (Asante 2003, p.3).
As a planning tool, AHIS’s are gaining in popularity. In November 2015, Atlanta passed legislation providing for Affordable Housing Impact Statements in a unanimous Council decision. New Orleans and Pittsburg are currently considering the adoption of similar ordinances.
The adoption of an Affordable Housing Impact Statement in the City of Ottawa’s planning and development approvals process would signal a clear intention on the part of the Mayor’s Office and Council to identify and address the impacts of new development on housing affordability, promote more equitable and inclusive neighbourhood development and operationalize the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens within its Planning and Development Review departments.
Asante, M. 2003. Review of Policy and Practice in San Diego, California and Austin, Texas. Montgomery County, MD: Strategic Planning Division, Department of Parks and Planning.
Cardinale, M.C. 2014. Affordable Housing Impact Statements: A Policy Opportunity for the City of Atlanta. Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University School of Law.