Affordable Housing BurlingtonBurlington is a great place to live, but housing costs are beyond the reach of many residents, including our young people who must leave the city to buy their first home, or our seniors and other vulnerable residents some of whom move outside Burlington where wait lists for social housing are shorter. The average house price is now hovering around $500,000.

Though substantial progress has been made in the last few years, we must do more to make Burlington an inclusive community for people at every income level.

Hits & Misses: Responsibility for social housing rests at Halton Region; all members of Burlington council sit on Halton’s 21-member Regional Council so we have a voice at that table. I’ve served as a member of Halton Region’s Health & Social Services Committee, and a member of the Board of the Halton Community Housing Corporation, which together have oversight of assisted and affordable housing delivery.

In the last term of council, we have increased annual investments in social housing (now at $26 million per year), and set a target of 550 new assisted housing units (and up to 900 with federal and provincial funding) in the next 10 years, with funding of $107 million.

In Situ program: funding where you live

Council has also provided more flexibility in the assisted housing program, by introducing “in situ” housing assistance,  that allows people to remain in their own home with financial support from the Region. The Region is also exploring purchasing condominiums in new developments rather than building and maintaining segregated social housing buildings. At my request, the Region is in conversation about buying some units at two major new developments in Ward 2: the Carriage Gate project on Caroline/John/Maria/Elizabeth, and the Paradigm development on Fairview. Regional staff is also discussing acquiring rental units in the Molinaro building on Brock Ave.

Redefining “affordability”

At my request, Regional staff also broadened the definition of “affordability.” In the past, affordability was provided as an average that blended household income and family size. The old housing model was based on meeting the housing needs of a so-called “average” household of 2.75 persons. The result was that the affordability measurement was too high for the type of units being built. Developers would build 1-bedroom units priced at the average, based on affordability for household of 2.75 people, but these units would be unsuitable for that type of family unit. As a result, the “affordability” of these units was well beyond the price point of an individual or couple, yet because they met the average rate were reported as “affordable.”

After raising these concerns with staff, they have now provided three measurements of affordability, based on small households, large households and average. The new model identifies the housing and income thresholds “Large” households with three or more persons, and for “Small” households containing one or two persons, for which the need for housing at moderate costs is more critical.

Now we can determine whether each new housing unit meets the affordability criteria for that type of unit. It’s a great step forward, yet there is more work to do. The range of “affordability” is significant, from $981 a month or $132k purchase price for a small household (1-2 people); to $3,131 a month or $420k purchase price for a large household (3 or more people). Under current policy, 30% of new housing units built in Halton Region must be “affordable” but we are seeing many of these built at the top end of affordability, while the growing need for housing is at the lower end.

More rental housing

Our rental vacancy rates are among the lowest in the GTA, at 1.3%, well below the recommended rate for a healthy market of 3%. Anything below below 3% makes it difficult for households to locate suitable rental housing. Council has already passed rules forbidding converting rental units into condominiums. But very few rental units are being built and when they are, they are registered as condos to avoid any problem if there is a desire to sell the units later, and also take advantage of lower property taxes for condos versus rentals.

The Road Ahead: Policies that encourage the private sector to provide affordable and social housing are both a Regional and City responsibility.

We need to do more to encourage provision of affordable housing at the bottom end of affordability range. We need to hold firm on our Official Plan and Zoning – any increases in height drive up land values and get built into the price of subsequent land sales. That makes building affordable products, much less assisted housing or rental units, even more difficult. Any changes to the OP/Zoning must only be made to achieve policy goals, including delivering assisted housing as part of a larger project, with government as a partner with the private sector.

We also need to take steps to provide more rental housing, one of which would be to eliminate the higher tax rate for rental housing versus condominium units. Rental housing is 2x single family residential, and .2 more than condominium units. Many municipalities have moved to reduce the tax rate on rental units to address this imbalance. A recent vote at Halton Regional Council to equalize condo and rental tax rates was defeated, but more study will be done on this in the next term of council and I will continue to champion equalizing or reducing rental tax rates.