London Free Press - October 25, 2018

Turner Affordable housing

Politicians on city council’s planning committee will be asked to start crafting an affordable housing plan to help fill the gaps in the market and spur developers to build places where more Londoners can afford to live.

A hot-button election issue, London’s affordable housing — or lack thereof — generated interest at debates and cracked a number of candidates’ election platforms.

The city is already facing a long wait list and backlog of needed repairs for its public housing stock — rent-geared-to-income properties — but there are also thousands of other residents struggling to keep up with the prices of apartments and homes.

London is a city with some of the highest “core housing needs” in the province, said Travis Macbeth, a planner with the city.

“We often get compared to Toronto . . . this is one of the largest cities with one of the biggest needs,” he said.

A few months ago, council directed staff to put together a list of all the political tools at its disposal to spur new affordable housing units. The document coming to the planning committee Monday evening outlines those options, and recommends staff be directed to create a more specific plan.

The goal of the affordable housing development strategy would be to outline which incentives and policies should be used — and where.

“It’s really important that we have direct policies about how and when we use those tools to increase our affordable housing inventory,” planning committee chair Coun. Stephen Turner said. “This (report) is good for general consumption, but we do need to be specific.”

“The intention is to figure out what the gaps are. There’s already all these existing programs,” Macbeth added.

“The term in other communities you often hear is the ‘missing middle.’ What sort of tools are there to encourage private sector development of things at or below market rent?”

Some examples:

  • Bonusing: Allowing developers to build more units or taller buildings than zoned for a lot in exchange for affordable housing
  • Inclusionary zoning: A regulation that requires all new development proposals to include a proportion of affordable housing units
  • Community Improvement Plans: Programs to encourage updates or revitalization of properties in a certain neighbourhood, including incentives for residential development
  • Closed School Strategy: Council made a commitment to look at closed school buildings — city hall gets first dibs on the property when the school board is disposing of it — with an eye for affordable housing projects
  • Grants, tax breaks and development charge rebates

Some of these tools are already used by council and city hall, but there isn’t an overarching guide for ground rules and consistent standards.

Take a recent development proposal at Grey and Wellington streets — an 18-storey apartment building — where council approved bonusing in exchange for 10 affordable housing units, among other conditions.

Developers need to know up-front what will be required of their projects, Turner said. His preference is to focus on bonusing and community improvement plans.

“We have to be aware of what the impact will be to industry and what the impact will be to residents,” he said. “We have to figure out how to find that sweet spot, that balance.”

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