Our Sustainable Future: Get Inspired, Get Informed, Get to Work!
7-Part Online Discussion Series, February – November, 2021
We believe that Southern Georgian Bay can meet today’s needs of the planet,
its people, and economic vitality…without compromising the needs of future generations.
Part 7 – Sustainable, Attainable, Affordable Housing
December 1, 2021
“All hands on deck” needed for housing
In this final event for the Our Sustainable Future seven-part series, the focus continues on developing a regional vision in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11 – make communities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Housing is at the top of the milestone list for reaching this goal. As it has been suggested there is a need for an “all hands on deck” regional approach to tackle the lack of housing for broad segments of our population. Young people working in the service industry, professionals trying to buy their first home, seniors needing rental accommodations, cannot find a place to live which they can afford.
This challenge had panellists addressing the question: Where do we want to be in 5 years on this issue? The housing crisis is impacting the vitality of our communities, now. Speakers weighed-in on the issue, looking at statistics and levers of change, offering real-life experiences, planning opportunities and questions for communities to consider, if we want to accelerate progress on this issue.
Moderator Yvonne Hamlin noted the complexity of this issue that crosses all sectors, and that this discussion was meant to help us all learn about how we could make housing sustainable, attainable and affordable. Panellists shared their experiences and knowledge from diverse backgrounds. They included a social innovation leader, an urban design planner, a retired real estate broker turned affordable housing advocate, and a local mayor with a background in business and economic development.
This series was supported by The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay with our lead partners: The Towns of Collingwood, The Blue Mountains and Wasaga Beach and the Municipalities of Meaford and Grey Highlands and our supporting partners: Community Futures South Georgian Bay, Greenland Consulting Engineers and Julia White/Cooperators.
TOP THREE THEMES FOR ENVISIONING A LOW CARBON FUTURE
- Affordable housing is a complex issue with multiple stakeholders, is affected by policy, and impacts community well-being.
- New and innovative approaches are needed, including shifts in perspective by planners, decision-makers and change leaders.
- Solutions will require all voices to be heard and to have a seat at the table.
For 25 years, Andrea Nemtin has led organizations and initiatives focused on creating positive social and environmental progress through strategic philanthropy, media and arts, social innovation and impact investing.
Previous to her role as the Executive Director of Social Innovation Canada, (https://www.sicanada.org/) Nemtin was the founding CEO of the Inspirit Foundation, (https://inspiritfoundation.org/) Executive Director at Rally Assets,( https://rallyassets.com/) and President of PTV Productions (http://www.ptvproductions.ca/). She has served in governance and advisory roles with many organizations and is a board member for the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (https://rpra.ca/), and Challenge for Change.
Nemtin is committed to finding innovative ways to support cohesive and prosperous communities and was recognized in 2017 with a Governor General’s Meritorious Service Award for her contribution to inclusion in Canada.
In her presentation, Nemtin went through an overview of the “complex wicked problem” of housing by previewing the findings of a recent national lab on the financialization of housing. This project, conducted by Social Innovation Canada under Nemtin’s watch and funded through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The report: Financialization and Housing: A Social Innovation Approach to a Better Housing System can be found here: https://sicanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Financialization_of_Housing_Report.pdf.
With data from the report, Nemtin outlined the historic challenges of housing and how it has been affected by government policy and the commodification of housing. She examined briefly the issues of increased mortgage securitization as an asset class and the decreased number of rental units being built. Looking at macro trends, she noted investments in real estate through second residences and the move to condo development have led to rising housing cost, which have gone up to exorbitant levels.
In a complicated multi-level industry, she showed how banks have been incentivized to give mortgages, driving debt loads and making homeowners vulnerable to interest rate increases. In addition, the decline of purpose-built rental units, and the reluctance to renovate aging, declining and deteriorating units led to the federal government ceasing to invest in community housing, with only two per cent of new builds in the rental market, have all exacerbated the issue over the last few decades.
Levers for change include:
- Innovative shared equity, co-housing models, and emerging forms of community land trusts.
- A regulatory tool to collect information about rental markets across Canada, potentially combined with updated tenant regulations, education, and enforcement.
- Policy aimed at non-resident ownership may reduce speculation-fueled price increases.
- Optimize programs designed to incentivize the creation of affordable rentals, and improve alignment of municipal, provincial and federal programs.
- Innovative financial models, products and services to enable the increase in supply of affordable and below market housing.
- Every level of government owns real estate assets and has jurisdiction over policy and regulatory tools which could enable or incentivize the increased provision of more affordable housing.
The human impact is huge. In the recent census, 1.6 million people do not have a home they can afford that meets their needs. This issue affects everyone, however single parents, newcomers and indigenous people are the hardest hit. Affordable housing means that households do not spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
“There is a dramatic deficit in affordable housing,” “It was a bit sobering” said Nemtin of the lab study, which looked at the rise of retail owners of rentals and the use of “no fault” evictions. “For every unit created, 15 are lost, through renovation of rentals to condos and other shifts. People are living in constant threat of eviction. These impacts are felt on a community level.”
The report and a subsequent prototyping lab, she said, will look at levers for change in the housing sector. Levers include innovation in housing types and styles, policy and regulations, incentive programs, creative financial models and better use of publicly-owned lands.
As a lifelong community activist and advocate for social justice, Scheben-Edey was the inaugural chairperson of the South Georgian Bay Out of The Cold (https://outofthecoldcollingwood.com/) program for those experiencing homelessness in the area. She is retired from a 32-year career as a local real estate Broker and is currently the Chairperson of the regional housing committee of the
Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (https://www.scateh.com/) and is the Vice-chair of the Town of Collingwood Affordable Housing Task Force (https://www.collingwood.ca/council-government/committees-boards/affordable-housing-task-force).
She is an alumni of the Institute of Change Leaders (https://www.changeleaders.ca/) at Ryerson University with a certificate in Building Skills for Change Training on the core organizing concepts of Public Narratives, Volunteer Recruitment, Strategy, Tactics, Theory of Change, and Designing Action Plans.
From her years of work in the housing sector, and a hands-on approach to seeking answers, Scheben-Edey agreed with Nemtin this is a complex challenge which resembles the search for the holy grail or silver-bullet solution. But, she suggested, all the reasons outlined do not make up all the problem.
It used to be someone wanting to buy a house would be looking at a cost at two to three times their salary – now it is more like 12 to 14 times household income. For renters, it is often the case that 50 per cent of their income is going to rent. “We need to ban the word attainable,” she stressed, “in all cases hosuing needs to be attainable as housing is a legal right.”
Generally, people should not be paying more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter cost. She suggested many are just not able to reach any kind of housing in their ability to pay, so Scheben-Edey says we need to “be focussed on people of the greatest need.”
She also looked briefly at the history of government policy on housing. In 1972, governments used tax disincentives on rental units, instead encouraging people to become home-owners. This led to the advent of condos and historically low interest rates and rent control laws pushed ever more people out of the rental industry. There is a change lever here at the federal level within tax laws.
Gentrification of neighbourhoods and entire regions has brought on a strong seller’s market with opportunities for second homes and renovating rentals into condos. She offered that 38 rental units were lost in the last two years in Collingwood.
“Think of the hundreds of properties lost in the last two years,” she said, adding, “we’re losing the ability to have people who rent, live in our community. How are we going to fill service jobs when we lose the opportunity to have services in our community?”
She noted there seems to be a stigma about “those people” in the greater community that needs to shift from Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) to Yes in My Back Yard (YIMBY) perspective to understand the need for a mix of housing, income levels and people in every community.
Robert Voigt is an award-winning Registered Professional Planner practicing for over 25 years in development, consulting, and government sectors in Canada and USA, with successes recognized internationally in urban design, healthy community planning, and stakeholder engagement. He is currently the Director of Development Services for the Municipality of Meaford.
In 2019, he became the first international member of the Urban Land Institute’s Health Leaders Network (https://americas.uli.org/research/centers-initiatives/building-healthy-places-initiative/leadership-and-learning/uli-health-leaders-network/), and in 2020 he was a member of the advisory team that founded Planning for Health Equity Advocacy and Leadership (PHEAL) (https://www.stateofplace.co/pheal-principles).
He has played leadership roles in the envisioning, development, and implementation of multiple $1B+ mixed-use master plans for creating complete communities; and, as an industry leader he often advises organizations on addressing challenges to providing housing for all, healthy community design, and economic development.
With his deep experience in planning, Voigt called for a shift in perspective to become “community builders” who need to be “community champions of change” to “move forward with curiosity” towards new solutions. He suggested collaborative models with a view to impacting community health and wellbeing, economic development, sustainability, workforce security, aging in place and resiliency and adaptability.
He highlighted a series of questions to indicate current and future challenges ahead. He wondered how we may ever meet the needs of older adults, single parents and families and people with disabilities if we discourage some types of housing. There are many biases around some demographics. He suggested home ownership of single detached residences as preferable housing types does not provide a good comparison for healthy mixed communities as “all types of housing have value.”
Voigt said he finds there are many options for changing traditional forms of housing to non-conforming uses that are allowed, but new infill projects offering similar models to these ideas remain unapproved in current planning systems. Setbacks that value car storage over shelter seem counter to infill building. He questioned the benefit of monoclonal housing when he asked why are developments expected to be the same as their neighbours, with design reviews misinterpreting sameness as contextual fit?
Further, he wondered what happens when we accept unsupported claims that infill housing will overburden existing neighbourhoods with crime, noise or other unwanted impacts? Openness to newcomers is needed. He suggested there is a status quo working as a barrier to a more robust variety of creative housing construction and diverse mix of neighbours.
He offered that the notion of preserving “stable neighbourhoods” in Official Plans is ill-conceived and restricts the natural and constant evolution of communities. He wondered why planners give credence to assertions that people who live in new types of homes are ill-suited to live adjacent to earlier built homes. He also wondered what is the impact on housing costs when Zoning By-laws don’t align with Official Plan policies? These issues just make it harder to navigate the development process.
As a planner who believes community is a verb, and people need to look at how we address the housing crisis, Voigt asked when deliberating on housing proposals, why are opinions given undue credibility compared to professional, peer-reviewed reports and findings? Is this acceptable? What liability are we creating when these comments rule the day?
Clearly, he wondered how do we include the voices of the seldom listened to in the community? Who speaks for those without a voice at the table?
He was not able to answer all these questions, instead offering them as rhetorical inspirations for those looking into the housing issue to consider. He suggested if you want to understand a community’s values, don’t look at their vision statements or plans; look at their regulations, processes and budget.
“We need to focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong,” he said. “Our pencils are sharp enough and we need dedicated effort.”
Shirley Keaveney, Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Meaford, is a lifelong resident and long-time business owner. She retired this past July after 43 years operating the local DQ Franchise.
This is Keaveney’s second term as an elected official. She is a past president of the Meaford Chamber of Commerce where she chaired Meaford’s Dragon’s Den for many years. Keaveney is Co-Chair of the Four County Labor Market Planning Board and is also a member of the Meaford Rotary Club where she sits on the Godfrey Apartment Affordable Housing Committee.
She chairs Meaford’s Economic Development Committee and is a member of the Grey County’s Affordable Housing Committee, Economic Development Committee, Agricultural Advisory Committee, and Tourism Advisory Committee. Keaveaney is also an active member of the Social Finance Group of the Institute of Southern Georgian Bay.
Admitting she was new to the idea of social finance Keaveney nevertheless supports the “shared social value” it represents. As a member of Grey County Council, she said housing has become the number one priority there and has led to an increased investment in housing and partnerships with other levels of government to create new housing units. She sees this not as a cost but as an investment in the future.
She noted the provincial Ministry of Housing has reported the average cost of providing social housing is about $613 monthly, whereas a shelter bed costs $2,100 a month, a prison bed costs $4,300 per month and one hospital bed averages $13,500 monthly. So the investment in community housing is worth it.
Further, she offered that Grey County provides ongoing financial supports in partnership with related support providers averaging $600,000 annually. This funding provides over 25,000 nights of supportive accommodations each year. These facilities assist with laundry, medication distribution, meals and aid residents who need help with managing day to day needs.
Even in her volunteer role with the Meaford Rotary Club, Keaveney sees promising opportunities to maintain and reinvest in rental properties. In 2000, the local club bought the 32-unit Godfrey Apartment complex from the municipality for $1. Rotary is committed to maintaining the low rents in the four buildings but is facing high costs of major replacements, which often go unfunded in government systems geared to finance new municipal and county-level projects.
She also shared personal stories from young people who are unable to compete in the housing market, despite having saved for a down payment. As a long-time employer of youth in her business, she many times lost staff due to inability to find appropriate shelter.
“I found out after the fact that one girl slept in her car for three weeks last January because she had no where to stay,” she said, appalled at the lengths some young people have to go to for work. “It broke my heart.”
This heartbreak led her to become involved with the Institute’s Social Finance Learning Group, which has met regularly over the past year and is now involved with Social Innovation Canada’s Housing Lab.
“We will present our ideas for initiatives that could encourage and hopefully excite the development community,” she said, suggesting there are many opportunities for “those who may be able to participate financially in such projects.”
Ideas such as community land trusts, community bonds, community loan funds and ethical investment frameworks will be explored. There are examples of these already successfully supporting housing initiatives, so more research and finding a way to take forward ideas from other jurisdictions will be a challenge for the Southern Georgian Bay region.
“The key to all of these financing initiatives is broader community engagement towards solutions that benefit all,” she said. “This is a regional problem and the more minds we can bring to the table, the better chance we have of finding innovative solutions and funding sources.”
Q & A:
Q: Decent housing is in everyone’s interest. Would you invest in a community bond to support housing builds?
AN: Community bonds seek investors and many pay out about 4 per cent return, better than RRSP and interest payments. Waterloo is working with credit unions to guarantee payments. It’s really about putting together different kinds of capital, where for instance a community donates a building, organizations put funding toward renovating and trigger a shared equity with CMHC. Toronto Island works like this where a community land trust owns the land and the people own the homes. There is so much money out there, we need to find ways to tick off the security boxes people need for low risk return. Municipalities can’t take on the debt but they can guarantee it.
Q: Is the flip of rental units into Airbnb a factor you looked at? How do we address auctions driving up prices?
MS-E: Short-term rentals tend to be in higher-priced areas where there isn’t a lot of availability. We can’t stop auctioning as we live in a capitalistic free market economy, but we may have the ability, collectively, to change the conditions that lead to that.
Q: Tiny Homes are projected to be built on Lake Huron. The land currently houses House Trailers. Is this a viable option here? Are Housing Co-operatives an option?
RV: Tiny homes are a pretty niche market. We need co-ops, co-housing, tiny and every form of housing. It’s never an either/or answer, for all housing it is both/and. We need to look at housing as an ecosystem. We kind of only build two kinds of home, we need housing to become more cyclical, to allow secondary suites, in-law flats, accessory units. We don’t need to overthink this; the primary challenge is lack of action.
Q: Is there anything in place for social housing for families? I feel like there is a lot for seniors.
SK: Most family “social housing” is with (Grey) county, with close to 200 units. Meaford has the most.
Yvonne Hamlin: Simcoe County has a large amount.
MS-E: Most of the Simcoe housing is in Innisfil. There is very little social housing in Southern Georgian Bay – there are two new buildings coming, and they have a 10-year wait list. Grey County is inspirational. Families have a desperate need, but the fastest growing sector of need is seniors Boomers as they head into retirement.
Q: Seems to me the large landholders and developers can play a very serious role in these issues. Can we not get them to the table and ask them for their input and ask what initiatives they would like to see? I also think the banks could also make lending much more attractive to those interested in expanding in affordable housing.
SK: Come to Meaford, we have great staff to help developers.
RV: I understand the developer frustration, but we’ve been building community for years, why are we grinding on the problems? On average, it takes 15 years from land purchase to development. It shouldn’t be that complicated to build homes. All types of housing is needed, everywhere. We need to find things that work and make it real.
Yvonne Hamlin: We need to work hand-in-hand to build communities. If streamlining can make it better, builders will see a faster bottom-line.
Q: There is a lot of discussion here regarding garden suites/tiny homes, which is really good. But, just wondering what your thoughts are on the legislative changes as a result of Bill 108 (More Homes, More Choices Act).
MS-E: This is a very large piece of legislation and very urban-based. There is much in it that is not applicable to small and rural communities. Much of the act is based on transportation hubs, so some of it may have merit but we don’t know any regulatory process yet.
WHAT YOU SAID – COMMENTS FROM THE CHAT
Housing should be considered a human right, not just an investment. My concern is that people are being priced out of the neighbourhoods in which they work, hollowing out local communities and economies.
There is no way you can afford a family home if you work for $18-22 per hour.
CTV special last week said increased housing prices by newcomers is pushing out locals.
Look at Thornbury. I grew up there in the sixties. My children could not afford to live there.
Collingwood , Stayner ,Wasaga Beach do not have housing that is affordable for the median wage available in the region. Due to demand by the early retirees to live where we are the prices have been rising steadily, even before Covid. Covid just put it on steroids!
When I grew up, one of my parents working at blue collar work made enough to buy a house in TO. Now, I think my grandchildren may never own a family home, even here.
Airbnb is killing our long-term rentals.
Social problems from wild party goers.
Those municipalities would need to have bylaw people actively police short-terms/Airbnb and shut them down, and no municipalities are doing that – though I understand they will respond and fine any brought to their attention.
I agree – why have any bylaws if zero proactive enforcement.
We looked into the impact of non-residential investment on housing prices – they appear to have had some impact on other buyers’ expectations, who then in turn up their bids, but actually make up a very small portion of the market. Speculatory pricing is detrimental to house prices whether they are residents or nonresidents.
ABSOLUTELY in agreement regarding stepping away from the word Attainable. It’s use simply confuses the situation.
We need to provide housing that is fitting for all people across their life courses and circumstances.
It’s not the responsibility of private landlords to supply housing to the population, there needs to be government investment in public/social housing, and they also should be looking to countries where there is successful social housing – many European countries have very affordable social housing systems.
I live in a legal basement apartment – landlords NEED to be MADE to make their units not absolute garbage….and legal!
Unfortunately, there is a demographic that believes when we speak about Affordable Housing, they believe we are speaking about Social Housing. Need more Education.
Occupancy restrictions, mandatory sound abatement, separation of electrical circuits, separation of HVAC or heat control in the basement unit
Tiny home coop on agricultural land with garden plots and community garden?
Municipalities can force developers to include a % of affordable units.
Though they typically back-end those, so they’d be the last units in a subdivision.
What is the Municipalities definition of affordable Housing?
The generally accepted definition of “affordable” is 30% of income spent on housing needs.
If someone earning $15 per hour working 40 hours per week pays 30% of income on housing that equals $858 per month!
ODSP monthly shelter allowance 2021 for 1 person is $497!
Just look at how many families are being supported by sponsors this Christmas to ensure they get a Christmas meal and a few gifts, many are working families who cannot afford anything extra besides rent and bills.
Why have our municipalities not picked off the low hanging fruit and mandated the construction of secondary suites in all new builds?
Nurses, PSW working for government or government subsidies places then they are hired at CASUAL STATUS no guaranteed hours! WE have a labour shortage and these employees are actually working 40 hours a week from the start. They are forced to work for 2 years for the same employer before the financial community will allow the income earned to be used for mortgage financing. This is wrong. Retail, same thing, employees work full-time hours but employers will not give them full-time classification. I am fighting this daily in my job as a Mortgage Broker.
And all you hear is “I don’t know why I can’t find staff…” LOOK AT YOURSELF AND YOUR PRACTISES IF YOU CAN’T FIND STAFF!!! “GAINFUL” is more than just a word.
Just published – the 2021 Resolution from the Habitat in Towns: Collingwood World Summit. Housing is front and centre. Lots of knowledge to be shared – https://www.ueforum.org/habitat-in-towns-resolution789f88f0
Municipalities carry too much debt and need to update infrastructure. There is not much money left for this investment. What about the development fees, the other added costs, 3 different surveys, park land to pay for, etc. you can buy a lot for $250k but then add all those other costs and you over $310k before a shovel goes in the ground!
Is it collaborative to denigrate “comments and opinions” from the community? Is it paternalistic to maintain that professional opinions know best?
Action is needed now and hopefully the ones who have the power to act now are listening.
Given that single family homes are a box of whatever size or shape TIME TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX?
Every developer should have to keep back a certain amount of units devoted to affordable housing.
Single family homeowners could contribute to affordable housing through a surtax on their property taxes being dedicated to it. Municipal government would have to guarantee the funds for that, and not into the general coffers.
Why is community involvement in the form of real concerns dismissed as “nimbyism”?
In most cases, the Municipal Governments ignore the development community who are the economic engine for the region. There should be collaboration, not confrontation. I cannot understand how the local governments ignore the development community.
Simcoe County has a $25K grant to build an efficiency and only a very small percentage of people have taken advantage of it.
Could some of the county investments back a community bond so it leverages local investment?
Simcoe County is in year 8 of its affordable housing strategy. The goal is to build 2600 new units in Simcoe County. The housing Marg is referring to is 147 units at Second and High Streets. There are approx. 100 single bedroom units, 30 – 2 bedroom units and 17 – 3 bedroom units.
We need to focus on things that we can do, and stop worrying about overly-specialized options and the impossible.