Whitzman, Dreessen: Why is Ottawa lagging behind on housing solutions?

Other Canadian cities have innovated to ensure their residents have accommodation. Surely the country’s capital can do the same.

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Last month, the federal government formally announced a $176.3 million commitment to the City of Ottawa through its Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF). The funding will go towards building 4,500 more affordable homes over the next three years.

This makes Ottawa one of nearly 20 cities in Ontario eligible for funding. Like other municipalities, the money is contingent on the introduction of a series of initiatives to make housing possible, including reforming municipal zoning to allow up to four homes on each residential lot by June, with enactment in 2025.

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This agreement appears to be a step back from the one in Ottawa. Official Plan 2022, which spoke of “low-rise” zoning of four stories as a basic minimum, with no limit on the number of units. More importantly, it falls far short of what is necessary to allow 151,000 more homes close to transit and services by 2031, as the City of Ottawa committed to the Ontario government, let alone enough to drive the transition to energy-efficient, affordable and accessible communities that everyone recent canadian report He says it is necessary.

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser was not at the Ottawa event. On the other hand the was announcing a bold plan for affordable, non-market housing on government land. Fraser, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrysta Freeland, was in Toronto in December 2023 when HAF committed $471 million for a wide range of strategies, including acquiring rental buildings at risk of becoming unaffordable and building housing near rapid transit.

A month earlier, the city of Calgary received $228 million from HAF. after he adopted a plan to build 3,000 non-market affordable homes a year. In May 2023, before HAF bids were opened, the City of Ottawa received a report called Our city begins at home from the Alliance to end homelessness in Ottawa, supported by organizations ranging from supportive housing providers to the Board of Trade. The report recommended starting to build non-market housing on 18 mostly city-owned sites near the LRT. At the same time, a local housing advocacy group called Making housing affordable in Ottawa published an action plan with very similar proposals.

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Had the City of Ottawa taken advantage of those proposals as part of its HAF bid, it could have been ahead of the pack instead of falling behind.

Other Canadian cities are creating innovative approaches to housing. The City of Edmonton is moving forward with a new zoning statute, adopted in October 2023, which includes zoning that allows for the size, density and scale of development our cities need (“by right” zoning) without parking minimums. The British Columbia government is increasing Non-commercial and indigenous affordable housing on government land and r.reforming the building code to improve accessibility.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s panicked attitude toward homelessness reveals a lack of forward-thinking. Instead of temporary solutions, it remains difficult to adopt lasting measures that arise from addressing the root causes. in a January 16 event in Ottawa With Minister Fraser in attendance, visitors from Finland discussed the virtual elimination of homelessness in their country. Numerous councilors attended; the mayor and most councilors, including those representing rural and suburban districts, were nowhere to be seen.

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Innovative and creative solutions were largely absent from the HAF presentation. Support for sustainable buildings was not considered; nothing to address vast expanses of publicly owned land near public transportation on which housing could be built today. There should never have been bureaucratic barriers to converting offices into homes; A decade ago, a report was presented to streamline planning; Electronic permit applications have been in place in some cities for 10 years or more.

Why is HAF funding needed to make these changes today when the city could have done it at any time?

It’s been 18 months since the last municipal elections but we don’t see any big ideas. Compare Ottawa to the creative and innovative changes that were made four months after Olivia Chow was elected mayor of Toronto.

Ottawa has a talent for finding solutions, but they never come to the table (sometimes due to procurement rules) or be rejected by a fractured city council interested in low taxes and little else. There is great interest in improving Ottawa. A thriving urban book club, numerous formal and informal walking tours, and grassroots advocacy organizations. Local residents gather, write, and request changes in everything from housing policy to environmental management. There is clearly a desire to bring about positive change. The time is now.

Carolyn Whitzman is an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and an expert advisor to the Home Assessment Resource Tools project. Toon Dreessen is president of DCA Architects and past president of the Ontario Association of Architects.

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