4. Alternative Development Standards
Many cities are adopting alternative development standards, to reduce development costs and increase affordability. Reduced parking standards, for example, can enable builders to make maximize the number of units that can be built on a given site, both increasingly the number of people housed and helping to generate more rental revenue for housing projects. This is a particularly viable policy innovation for downtown and inner suburban neighbourhoods well-served by public transit.
The City of New York’s 10-Year Plan, for example, plans to eliminate parking requirements for new affordable housing in subway-accessible areas, allow existing affordable developments near the subway to redevelop existing parking facilities, and reduce parking requirements for affordable housing in neighbourhoods further from subway stations.
In 2015, Ottawa launched a Zoning By-law Review of Minimum Parking Requirements. A report and recommendation on how to amend the Zoning By-law will be presented to the City of Ottawa’ Planning Committee early this year.
5. Surplus Municipal Land Development
Surplus municipal land presents a major opportunity to produce new affordable housing. In 2007, for example, the City of Vancouver dedicated 14 City-owned sites to create 1,500 units of supportive housing in partnership with BC Housing, which is providing funding to cover construction costs as well as operational subsidies. As of 2015, thirteen of the 14 sites were complete.
“Housing first” surplus lands policies have been adopted by a number of municipalities and provinces. Ottawa’s Housing First Policy requires that the City identify and make available suitable City-owned sites to the community for the provision of affordable housing. If surplus land is deemed unsuitable and subsequently sold by the City, 25 percent of the net proceeds of the sale is dedicated the City’s Housing Reserve Fund, to create affordable housing. The limitation of this policy is that it is currently limited to residentially zoned surplus land. Expansion of this policy to include City lands zoned for industrial, institutional or other uses, could free up additional sites for new affordable housing (where appropriate) and/or help to replenish the City’s Housing Reserve Fund.
On their own, these planning tools are not enough to create affordable housing targeted at very low-income households. However, in many cases, they can be used in different combinations to reduce development costs and improve affordability, delivering units priced closer to the market rate – perhaps 70 to 80 percent of market rent, or sale prices.
This research is the product of an on-going university-community partnership between Carleton University and Cahdco in collaboration with a United Way-funded project led by Ottawa’s Alliance to End Homelessness.