Pretty much anyone looking for a new place to live in Windsor these days doesn’t need to be told there’s a housing affordability crisis.
And it’s getting worse. The average cost of a local home sold last month reached $704,112, a figure one realtor described as “mind-boggling.” That was up nearly 45 per cent from a year earlier, and it represented an increase of over $129,000 just since the start of 2022.
“We all know there’s a crisis, but what are the policy solutions we can get out there to address it?” asks Anneke Smit, director of the Windsor Law Center for Cities.
The University of Windsor-based research group is hosting a two-day housing summit next week designed to bring together a mixture of expert voices with ideas and suggestions on what can be done, including showing what planning and policy tools currently exist and are already being deployed elsewhere. Systemic challenges and gaps in housing delivery will be examined, as well as what governments at different levels and the private sector should be doing.
Windsor’s housing market is “pricing people out, it’s contributing to generational poverty — it’s huge,” said Smit. Low housing costs used to provide local households with a cushion during cyclical economic downturns, and they also helped the city retain young talent by keeping down the cost of living.
“That’s no longer the case. These are real challenges — it’s a huge cost to the whole community,” she said. The March 16-17 summit, featuring planners, politicians, entrepreneurs, economists and academics, is being co-sponsored by the Canadian Urban InstituteOttawa’s Smart Prosperity Institute and the University of Toronto School of Cities.
With both provincial and municipal elections on the near horizon, Smit said the approximately 20 speakers and panelists will focus on solutions to a problem likely to rate high in consideration among voters this year.
“I think we are starting to see solutions emerge, but we still have a serious problem,” said economist Mike Moffatt, a senior director at the Smart Prosperity Institute who will provide an overview of the current situation at the summit’s opening. While expressing hope with governments and policy makers “finally admitting that we have a problem,” he said ending the crisis “won’t happen overnight.”
The growing divide between those who can afford a home and those who are being priced out of the market is “a big concern,” said Moffatt. He describes as “very solid” the more than 50 recommendations of a special task force established by the Ontario government last year, but he and others are critical that it failed to address such concerns as investors contributing to housing speculation and price inflation.
Do the planning and policy tools already exist to help solve the housing crisis?
“The quick answer is, yes,” said Jim Tischler, development director of Michigan’s State Land Bank and another summit panelist. He’s a visiting fellow with the Windsor Law Center for Cities and knowledgeable about the Windsor and Ontario housing situation.
One of Tischler’s jobs for Michigan has been showing municipalities how to turn blighted and abandoned brownfield properties into productive land banks that can be directed to affordable housing development. Tax increment financing, he said, is another tool — available to Ontario cities since 2006 but not yet used — that would allow those entering the housing market to redirect their taxes into helping finance that first purchase.
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Moffatt’s think tank last fall reported that Ontario needs a million new homes over the next decade, and the Ford government’s task force pegged the need at 1.5 million units. Both he and Smit are concerned that, without proper planning and policy guidance, addressing that shortfall could lead to unsustainable urban sprawl, something Moffatt said could end up costing all municipal taxpayers.
Tischler and others at the summit will be discussing the need for target market analysis at the municipal level to better identify future housing needs and help direct development of a broader range of residential options than the current preponderance of suburban, and increasingly pricy, single-family dwellings.
The summit, which includes four 90-minute online sessions on Zoom spread over two days, is open to all and free. To register, go to the Windsor Law Center for Cities website at windsorlawcities.ca.