Housing spokesperson sees much needed but difficult changes about to take place

By Pepper Parr

February 7th, 2022



Almost every economic sector has an organization that serves as spokespeople for their interests.  Electricians, architects, truckers, chemists, doctors – they all have an organization that represents how they relate to the public.

In our part of the world the development and home builders interests are represented by the now named West End Home Builders Association, (WEHBA), a not for profit organization that was formerly known as Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association.

Michael Collins Williams: CEO – WEHBA

The CEO of WEHBA, Michael Collins Williams has brought a new tone and approach to the organization.

He also put in play the new strategic plan put in place when he was brought on board.

He surprised a lot of people when he spoke very positively about the role the development industry should and would be playing in the creation of affordable housing.

Mike, raised in Mississauga, attended Ryerson where he studied urban planning.  He is a registered Planner who is firm in the belief that communities are living breathing places where people choose to live and become part of a place that is constantly evolving.

Change is the one constant Mike works with.  The WEHBA is part of the Ontario association that is tied into the federal association. There are 26 local associations in Ontario.   Mike came to the WEHBA from the Ontario association.

When asked to name the best city he named Copenhagen, a city that made a conscious decision in the 70’s to make cycling a critical part of the way people get around.

Changes of this magnitude take time added Collins-Williams.

He should know, the WEHBA is in the middle of a social change that is not going to go away any time soon.  Housing has become both unaffordable and unattainable for many.  “We are in a housing crisis that is proving to be a challenge at every political level.”

Change means tension he adds and that puts stress on all the players.

Development is a capital intensive business.  The bigger players have had land banked for some time.  And they have deep pockets – the developing of housing is a very complex with many layers that add to the cost of a home and are passed along to buyers.

The city and the developers are arm wrestling over what the development charges are going to be.  They have remained the same for years and the city wants them increased so that they cover all their costs.  The developers are arguing that some of the costs the city has included are not legitimate and add that the development charges end up being passed onto the home buyers.

In order for the growth to take place a lot of capital will be needed and much more sophistication that the small and medium sized builders have not been able to bring to the table.

Burlington has an active Housing Strategy Project on which Michael Collins-Williams is giving the participants a viewpoint from the development sector few have heard before.

“Expect to see some consolidation and changes in the way business is done. This is too significant an issue; one that has to be resolved and that means everyone adjusting.”

“Public policy will play a large role in getting the housing built, things will have to be done faster, time lines at every level, especially the municipal level where permits and approvals are issued.

“The needed changes are not going to be easy to achieve.

“If we fail to provide the housing people need at prices they can afford the young will move to places where they can afford to live and raise their families.

“We are going to see some interesting unintentional partnerships being formed.

“Labour and supply chain issues are a concern now – they need to be overcome.

The baby boomers changed everything as they became the largest demographic; the millennials will do the same when they become the largest demographic.  However the baby boomers are still the dominant social force and they have to be dealt with.

And we must not forget that the millennials are talented and more mobile than any demographic before them.  The best and the brightest are being educated here and while they are mobile, home still counts.

Collins-Williams swings between being optimistic and pessimistic.  He optimism is cautious.

We asked Mike to tell us what he saw as good architecture and he said he tended to favour the brutalist style.   That came as a surprise especially when he commented on the Robarts Library at U of T and the Manulife Centre in Toronto as favourite architecture.

Michael Collins-Williams preference in public architecture was a bit of a surprise.  Above the Robarts Library and the Manulife Centre to the right.

Related news story:

Housing industry spokesperson insists that developers and all three levels of government have to be at the table if there is ever going to be affordable housing.

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6 comments to Housing spokesperson sees much needed but difficult changes about to take place in the development sector if there is ever to be enough affordable housing

  • Alfred

    James and Judith.

    You are both correct. As James said the majority of construction will be of Mid and highrise towers. Judith is correct in saying, not all people want this type of housing. The low density areas of Burlington make up over 70% if not more, of the residential area of Burlington.

    In conclusion. We are not out of land that would be used to build and put a smile on Judiths face. We are just starting to appreciate and open the development potential of the low density areas. Thousands of single and other ground oriented (semi’s, duplex, triplex and fourplexes, don’t forget townhouses. These are soon coming to a neighbourhood near you. This is referred to as more housing options. Something the Provincial Gov’t and the Mayor now want. Go figure.

  • Denise W.

    “If we fail to provide the housing people need at prices they can afford the young will move to places where they can afford to live and raise their families.”

    It’s a ‘free market’ system, last I looked. Young people do strain to get into Burlington/Oakville and one reason is because the potential appreciation of the real estate. And so they can and should go elsewhere. And they are. If city hall wants things to be more affordable, lower municipal and regional taxes. As it is, they are going up and nobody has said where the hard upper limit will be. Infrastructure getting spread thin and our landfill was designed to run to 2012 but thanks to recycling the life limit is vastly extended. But what then when it is filled? Trucking the garbage even farther will dramatically raise expenses. Hoping for the best, but we need to address some unglamorous issues, not just vote getting, woke, hot button topics.

  • Mister Peter

    Marilyin’ meed ward will be using this as her election platform. Lots of talking and no action. This city has failed to keep up on the housing crisis and now she wants you to believe; she knows nothing and will do nothing, same as always. At least Hamilton is doing something about housing.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “If we fail to provide the housing people need at prices they can afford the young will move to places where they can afford to live and raise their families.” …… eventually that will happen in any case and it is not a valid definition of a “housing crisis”; it is simply a rationale used by the development industry to create pressure for taller buildings. People have always had to move to where they could afford a home and this is not news.
    I see that Toronto may be getting some developments comprised of 80 story buildings. I wonder how long it would take paramedics to climb that high in an emergency?

    Good architecture died early in the 20th century. Concrete and glass is not attractive architecture.


    Does Collins-Williams know that not everyone wants to live in any kind of highrise? They want townhomes, dubpexes and semi-detached where there children can have the all important backyard and close neighbours without the high high price of a single dwelling home!!

    • James

      Where exactly do you propose building these new townhomes, duplexes and semi-detached homes with nice green backyards in a quantity significant enough to put a dent in the housing demand problem? There is no land left, Burlington is built out. Other than occasional infill lots, this form of low density greenfield housing will never been seen again in any significant way in Burlington. That’s not an opinion, that’s fact. Mid and high rise towers is the only real option Burlington has left.