University-Community Partnership

Can city planning policies be mobilized to create new affordable housing?

Written by Abra Adamo

November 20, 2015

This past spring, Cahdco and Carleton University initiated a research partnership to examine the relationship between Ottawa’s planning policies and local housing affordability.  With funding from a Mitacs Accelerate Grant, in which Cahdco serves as both industry partner and co-funder, this research project seeks to determine the extent and ways in which Ottawa’s planning and development approvals processes can be marshaled to increase the number of affordable housing units built annually.

Planning for Affordable Housing in Ottawa

The City of Ottawa’s Official Plan establishes a policy framework that encourages the development of a full range of housing types, including affordable housing. The Official Plan’s Affordable Housing Policy sets out targets requiring that 25 percent of new rental and ownership housing be affordable to low and moderate income households. The CMHC defines affordable housing as housing for which renters and owners spend no more than 30 percent of before-tax income on housing costs. Unfortunately, our city has not achieved these targets since the Official Plan was first adopted more than a decade ago.

2014 Quick Facts:

Roughly 6,500 people stayed in one of Ottawa’s emergency shelter for at least one night of the year.

More than 10,000 households were on the centralized waiting list for affordable housing in Ottawa last year.

136 affordable housing units were built.

(Alliance to End Homelessness 2014 Progress Report).

Urban planning and development processes have the potential to advance or derail a city’s affordable housing objectives. Since 2003, Ottawa’s intensification policy has facilitated higher density, mixed use development as part of an effort to create more livable neighbourhoods and a more sustainable urban landscape. Under intensification, Ottawa’s downtown and inner urban wards have seen a rapid growth in upscale condominium development, but without measures to ensure affordability.

Researching Affordable Housing Opportunities

With a new 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan now in place, this research project seeks to identify ways in which city planning might better facilitate and advance the creation of more affordable housing opportunities in neighbourhoods across the city. The research will answer the following questions:

  1. Are there specific barriers within the local/provincial planning system that limit the ability of non-profit and for-profit developers to build new affordable housing?
  1. Are there existing planning policies, tools and/or incentives that could be used to fuller effect and provide immediate opportunities for greater affordable housing development by non-profit providers independently or in partnership with like-minded private sector developers? 
  1. What opportunities should be pursued – both immediately and over the longer term – to amend the Planning Act and/or local municipal policies and plans to enable more affordable housing?
  1. What can we learn from elsewhere in Canada and internationally (promising/best practices, enabling conditions, readiness) that could be applied/adapted to Ottawa?

The research project will deliver recommendations next spring that identify immediate and longer-term actions that can be implemented to strengthen the role of the City’s planning and development processes to deliver on the 10-Year Plan’s promise to create “a home for everyone”.

Abra Adamo

Senior Researcher, Carleton University

November 20, 2015