The 2020 OPPI Conference: Policies and Tools to Create Affordable Housing

Written by Kyla Tanner

December 8, 2020

Every year the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) holds a multi-day conference in the fall. As a student studying planning the last two years, I always looked forward to hearing speakers discuss pertinent topics in planning, such as the missing middle, Indigenous perspectives in planning, complete streets redevelopment, and municipal responses to climate change, among others.

The 2020 conference theme was housing and demographics. Naturally, I had been looking forward to it all year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, presentations were moved to the virtual world and spanned over four Wednesdays in September and October. Speakers from across the province provided valuable insight regarding housing in Ontario and I attempted to attend all of those pertaining to affordability.

There was a common theme among a few of the presentations: policies and tools utilized by municipalities to create and enable affordable housing. Two presentations in particular focused on this theme heavily, ‘Affordable Housing vs. Housing Affordability’ by SHS Consulting and ‘Tools to Encourage the Development of Affordable Housing’ by J Consulting Group and Vink Consulting. In this blog post I thought I would highlight the policies and tools that were discussed by these groups. The following is a list of actions that municipalities can take, organized by the headings of Zoning, Financial Incentives, Building Standards, Conversion Policies, Housing First, and Community Land Trusts.

Zoning

  • Develop zoning and Official Plan (OP) policies that allow for increased density. Adopt either gentle or intense increased density, where appropriate.
  • Enact Inclusionary Zoning: require a percentage of new development units to have rents at a level of affordability.
  • Allow for single detached dwellings to have secondary dwellings and laneway houses. The City of Toronto and City of Hamilton have launched pilot projects to facilitate this.
  • Pre-zone or pre-designate land to permit a greater range of housing types or higher densities, more infill development, or reduced unit sizes, etc., than are intended by the OP. The zoning by-law provisions can facilitate the alternate development by permitting the development to take place as-of-right, without going through a zoning approval process. This saves time and thereby cost of development, allowing for cost savings to be passed down to rents.

Financial Incentives

  • Use the Community Benefit Charge to create funds to contribute as equity for the construction of affordable housing (as Section 37 funds did, which were used for the CCOC Arlington project completed in 2019. Cahdco was the Project Manager for this project).
  • Waive and exempt building permits and planning fees.
  • Permanently defer Development Charges at the local and regional level or do grants-in-lieu of the fees.
  • Exempt property tax for affordable housing units.
  • Create an affordable housing reserve fund that receives annual contributions to save and access funds by municipalities. The sources can come from the sale or development of municipal land (ideally that which cannot be used as residential), general revenue, cash-in-lieu developer contributions, and private donations. It is recommended to contribute at least $1 million annually to the fund.
  • Contribute or sell land at a reduced price to housing providers that offer long-term affordability.
  • Provide grants and loans to housing providers that offer long-term affordability.

Building Standards

  • Build walkable cities with access to transit. This leads to a reduction of parking, reducing the cost of the project and space required.
  • Support alternative construction, such as higher rise wood frame construction through Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) technology, reducing costs of the project. The use of pre-cast concrete and modular housing are new forms of construction that can be easy to do but difficult to have approved by municipalities. The new CMHC Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) (which we blogged about here) is allocating funding towards modular housing construction. Cahdco will be submitting three separate applications to the RHI funding stream on behalf of three clients interested in modular construction.

Conversion Policies

  • Disallow rental to condominium or non-residential use conversions unless the vacancy rate exceeds 3% for several years.

Housing First

  • Call for surplus land to be considered for affordable housing before being considered for other uses. If the land is not suitable for residential, it can be sold and the revenue put into the reserve fund.

Community Land Trust

  • Support the creation of a private, non-profit Community Land Trust that holds land for affordable housing and then leases it to non-profit housing providers long-term. The Ottawa Community Land Trust is a new non-profit organization that has recently been created thanks to funding from the Community Housing Transformation Centre (CHTC). Cahdco is the Project Manager for this initiative as well.

The majority of these policies and tools aim to reduce the cost of affordable housing, passing the savings onto the tenants and thereby offering lower rents. When the cost of development is too high, affordable rent rates are difficult to achieve, sometimes causing the project to be unfeasible and never get built. Determining feasibility and finding cost savings is Cahdco’s bread and butter and we are always happy to discuss potential projects with groups.

The presenters at OPPI framed these policies and tools as things that municipalities can, and should implement where appropriate. The policies and tools can also be thought of as devices that groups can advocate for their municipalities to implement, and, where they are already in place, as tools for organizations to utilize when creating affordable housing. When it comes to creating a city that is more affordable for all of its residents, one can never have too many tools to help achieve that goal.

Kyla Tanner

Kyla Tanner

Project Manager

December 8, 2020