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Housing strategy fundamentals in place - now for the really hard work in an uncertain economic environment

By Pepper Parr

July 3rd, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

City Council decided January 2021 that there had to be a housing strategy that would make it possible for people to be able to live in Burlington and at some time in their lives buy a hone.

The provincial requirement that the city grow meant intensification had to take place which amounted to growing up  – translate that to mean high rise towers – rather than growing out because there was no more greenfield land left.

At the same time the value of single family dwellings sky rocketed – due in part to cheap money from the banks and the realization that if you didn’t get into the marker now you might never get in.

Traditionally municipalities do not involve themselves in the supply of housing – they determine what can be built where through the zoning bylaw.

In June City Council took the first step in recommending the creation of a Housing Strategy.

The lead up to getting to the point was an 18 month process that resulted in a report yesterday that set out

12 actions – six of which were priorities

5 themes

5 pathways

1 vision

Most of the city departments were involved in putting the report together but there were five women who were at it every day of those 18 months.

It was a very proud day for Alison Enns and her team: Laura Daly, Kate Hill-Montague and Alexandra Mathers.

Increasing options for housing across the city was identified as a top priority and goal in the From Vision to Focus Plan. A key action item associated with this priority was ‘to complete the City’s Housing Strategy and implement the plan to address the needs related to young families, senior’s housing, affordable housing, special needs housing and newcomers by Q2-2022’.

A key action associated with this priority is to employ a range of communication and engagement tactics to ensure citizen involvement.

The objective was to

“…develop an innovative Housing Strategy for the City of Burlington that sets out policies, tools and actions to address residents’ housing needs now and in the future and will build on and support the Region’s Housing Strategy through the development of local solutions to housing issues in the City of Burlington.”

The Housing Strategy provides a road map for addressing local housing needs and increasing housing options that meet the needs of current and future residents at all stages of life and at all income levels. It identifies the key players in housing and their respective roles, including the role of the City of Burlington (See Action 1 of the Housing Strategy).

Burlington, as a lower tier municipality, has two key opportunities to do its part to “make moves” in addressing the broader housing crisis:

  • First, through partnership and advocacy to help deliver the deep affordability and housing options needed by residents of Burlington within the lower income deciles; and
  • Second, through focusing on implementing the direct actions that the City can take to increase housing options and opportunities for residents of Burlington within the middle-income deciles.

The key findings of the Housing Needs and Opportunities Report are summarized below:

  • Rental housing supply is not meeting the needs of existing and future
  • Housing is not affordable for many Burlington In the City of Burlington, the supply of housing that is affordable for all incomes is diminishing. In particular, home ownership for middle-income earners has become a challenge;
  • Burlington residents do not feel there is enough diversity or options for housing in the City to meet residents’ needs throughout their lifecycle;
  • As Burlington continues to grow and evolve, housing options will need to reflect this growth and change;
  • As a lower-tier municipality, one of the greatest actions and areas of focus will be to leverage relationships with upper levels of government and local community organizations to advocate for housing affordability and foster partnerships for the delivery of housing to address needs across the continuum; and
  • A lack of understanding among the general public about the benefits of a range and mix of housing options in the City often results in opposition to development that would address housing gaps.

The need was clear, what wasn’t as clear was how to get this done.

The pathway that Enns and her team had to determine was cluttered with what the other jurisdictions were doing.

The federal government was going to provide funds.

The Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) would be heavily involved

Ontario produced a report saying the people would just have to get used o the idea that there were going to be four plxes on streets that were single family dwellings.  Try that idea on a city councillor who has to deal with property owners who say – certainly, great idea – but not on my street if you want my vote.

The Regional government had the task of determining what the urban growth boundaries were going to be – and had to work aganst a lot of deeply rooted resistance from the farming community.

Locally the team had to work within a planning department environment that was struggling to cope with close to impossible work loads and significant changes at the leadership level.

This was an initiative put in place by a city council was about half way through its term of office and at a time when the leadership of the Planning department was experiencing some stability issues.

The Chief Planner found that her position no longer existed on the City Organization Chart so was given the opportunity to find employment elsewhere taking a significant financial settlement with her.

Mayor Meed Ward was never able to create the kind of relationship she wanted with Mary Lou Tanner who was the Director of Planning, which made her departure inevitable at some point.

Despite this Allison Enns and her team were able to work very effectively.

The presented their report and got the endorsement they needed quite quickly.  The recommendation vote was unanimous and went to Council on June 21st.

Then what?

Getting to this point meant loads of virtual meetings, all kinds of survey work.  Enns was particularly good at creating a pause during a virtual meeting and doing a quicky survey of those participating on line

The Housing Strategy is underpinned by extensive technical work by Dillon Consulting and SHS Consulting

And of course there was an engagement plan that drew more than 1,400 responses over the course of 4 online surveys and hosting 6 virtual Open Houses.

One key element of the engagement was the Housing Strategy Working Group who along with the Steering Committee guided the preparation of the Housing Strategy.

The Housing Strategy identifies 12 Actions to move toward the vision for housing in Burlington. It provides a set of action-oriented housing objectives (Themes) and an associated implementation plan that also identifies a list of Prioritized Actions and Quick Wins.

 

 

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4 comments to Housing strategy fundamentals in place – now for the really hard work in an uncertain economic environment

  • Ted Gamble

    Frankly there is little that the City, or governments can do can do to abate the housing crisis other than concentrating on mitigating and reducing taxes. When the fools at the BOC get done raising interest rates with minimal affect who can afford anything?

    There is little inventory so prices will not fall dramatically and high rise apartment style postage stamp size condo’s are not a solution .CHMC have accrued enormous liabilities over the last number of years from cheap money. Who will pay for this and at what borrowing rate?

    My neighbor has been waiting over a year for a building permit.
    I am upgrading my 100 AMP service to 125 AMP. The first available date for Burlington Hydro to change out the meter is 4 months away.

    With metrics like this my expectation of progress is low if we can’t even sanction or facilitate modest projects in the community.

  • Penny Hersh

    Cindy, excellent question.

    It will take all 3 levels of government to turn this Housing Strategy into a reality.

    Perhaps the city could kick start this by looking into partnering with a church or group that has already provided some low cost/subsidized housing in the city. St. Lukes Close on Elgin Street is one such building.

    The City now has an opportunity to consider incorporating something like this on the Robert Bateman High School property it just purchased. The property would provide access to a library, swimming pool and auditorium with exercise classes and programs, that would benefit all.

    Food for thought?

  • perryb

    Sad to understand that all this work can be ignored by an unelected “judge and jury” called the OLT, or overturned in a second by Doug Ford or one of his trained seals (cabinet minister).

  • Cindy Uffelmann

    So what are the action items?

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