Eliminate single family zoning to accommodate affordable housing

Oct 14, 2019 Housing
Cities need more of these triplex housing complexes

During my brief time as a Policy Planner with the City of Brampton, one of my responsibilities was to update the housing section of the Official Plan. As I was doing so, I came across a few things. One was the "estate housing" category, and the other was separation distances for group homes. I will only discuss the former. As I learned, Brampton intended to attract and, for a lack of a better term, segregate executives in the northeastern part of Brampton. These would be similar to a Bridle Path or Kingsway in Toronto's tony neighbourhoods. As someone who took issue to this, I sought to eliminate this category from the housing section. Since housing planning and policy was new to me, outside of building typologies, I was indirectly in favour of eliminating single family zoning.

Those in Toronto have been familiar with the Yellowbelt, a stretch of predominantly single-family homes in Central Toronto. Within Toronto's current Official Plan is a phrase that irks me - protection of neighbourhood character. In my opinion, this is code for income exclusivity and racial bias. Whether in Toronto, Winnipeg, or Montreal, the zoning for single family homes should be eliminated and the very least start planning and building density, especially in major transit corridors.

Cities are not doing enough to address the housing crisis!

Last week, I attended a discussion on the effect of Bill 108 on social infrastructure by UTSC professor Andre Sorensen. I raised a question to him about the elimination of single family zoning to promote affordable housing. The urban economist that he is was not in favour of such an idea. While I agreed with him that Bill 108 does not allow for negotiation between residents and developers, I disagreed with him on his presumption that there would be unfettered development of higher density.

Along the same lines of the protection of neighbourhoods are activists against gentrification. One perfect example I could recall came from the Ossington Community Association where back in 2012, the group fought vehemently against 109 Oz. I remember the group blasted and even berated city staff for the introduction of the Development Permit System (DPS). While I had my own personal reasons as to why I was against the DPS, I had city staff make a presentation to attendees of the Urban Professional Series in 2013. I recalled members of the OCA claiming that they weren't notified as they thought it was part of public consultation, but yet it was only information. These are the type of NIMBY groups who are against increased densities. The combination of these two groups have stalled the building of housing.

We all agree that there is a need for more affordable and dense housing in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. When the federal government in the early 90s go out of housing, especially co-ops, and devolved responsibility to the provinces and municipalities, development fell behind. Sure the National Housing Strategy was a good first step, but the biggest criticism is that funding commitments were backended to after the Federal election, which happens to be on the 21st for the non-Canadian readers.

What I'm getting at here is that in order to build combined affordable social and market-rate higher density housing, Canadian cities need to follow the lead of Minneapolis in striking out single family zoning policies. Increasing housing supply will not only be a response to demand but will also promote racial justice. For example, even though according to the last Census, 9% of the black population live in the outer suburbs of Toronto, many cannot afford to move closer their work and must do long distance commuting. Part of the spatial mismatch conundrum that still exists.

Even recently, Scarborough Councillor wrote a timely blog post on the need to increase density along current and future transit corridors, although his recent motion was denied by several of his peers.

With the upcoming Provincial Policy Statement update along with further clarification of Bill 108 as it pertains to affordable housing, community benefits, and inclusionary zoning, Toronto and the Region is becoming unaffordable to live. The jobs-housing balance is already out of whack and will only get worse. While we will need more private landowners like the University Health Network and Denver Health to build housing on vacant land, more needs to be done AND fast. The elimination of single family zoning in the Yellowbelt and other parts of the city, as well as the elimination of special categories like in Brampton will be a step in the right direction.

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