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LETTER: Realtors association calls for 'bold' local leadership

'We must tackle the housing affordability crisis and it’s time to be bold'
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GuelphToday received the following letter about Guelph's housing issues.

Guelph is facing a historic housing affordability crisis. Finding an affordable place to call home is becoming increasingly difficult for an entire generation of residents and our city urgently needs bold action.

Decades of underbuilding, months of interest rate increases, catering to NIMBYism, and changing demographics have all contributed to the housing crisis we are now in. As of August, the average price of a home in our city was $836,000 – over 58 per cent higher than it was just five years ago. Looking for a single-family home in Guelph? Expect to pay nearly a million dollars.

For existing homeowners, the market has been a benefit, but if you are among those who are struggling to find an affordable place to live it can be a nightmare. According to the last census, the median household income in Guelph was $94,000 – very middle class by Canadian standards. To afford an average priced home in Guelph today, that same family would spend almost 60 per cent of
their pre-tax income on just the costs of carrying the mortgage.

While the issues driving our affordability crisis are many, the main driver is that we are not building enough homes. To make homes more affordable, the provincial government has assigned Guelph a goal of building 18,000 new homes by 2031. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), we are struggling to meet that goal. In fact, for the first half of this year Guelph
has completed 275 homes – just 15 per cent of our annual target.

To save the Canadian dream of home ownership in Guelph and give all residents access to safe and attainable housing we need local elected leaders to be bold when it comes to building more homes in our city.

To start, city council should get behind Mayor Guthrie’s proposal to eliminate parking minimums altogether from the downtown core. Parking minimum requirements force new home buyers and tenants to pay thousands of dollars in additional costs, while increasing congestion, pollution and imposing various other environmental costs.

Eliminating parking minimums would free up more space for more homes in the downtown core and make Guelph a greener city.

Secondly, council should be looking for more ways to reform zoning. While the comprehensive zoning bylaw is a good first step, single-family zoning continues to be the dominant legal form of housing in our city. Single-family zoning allows you to take a bungalow and turn it into a monster home for one wealthy family, but you cannot build affordable townhomes for multiple families
without red tape, and exorbitant costs. In the middle of an affordability crisis, this type of zoning defies common sense and makes Guelph a less inclusive and welcoming city by favouring mansions over more affordable forms of housing. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner has championed ending exclusionary (single-family) zoning in Ontario, allowing for fourplexes and four storey
walk-up apartments in neighbourhoods as of right – this is the kind of bold change Guelph should be embracing.

Finally, council should also look to review things like minimum lot sizes and floor area requirements to ensure they are in keeping with our goals to make Guelph an inclusive and an affordable city.

These zoning rules force homes to be larger than they otherwise would be providing yet another way that less affluent home buyers and renters are excluded from Guelph neighbourhoods.

Guelph also cannot do this alone. It needs support from both the provincial and federal governments to provide more funding for things like community housing development and infrastructure. Tackling the housing affordability crisis will require a combined effort but leadership must start at home and on council.

Across Canada, cities like Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver are taking aggressive action to tackle the housing affordability crisis. Guelph will struggle to compete against these cities and others for skilled talent and business investment if we do not make a more concerted effort to build homes.

We must tackle the housing affordability crisis and it’s time to be bold. The future success of our city depends on it.

Tyson Hinschberger; president
Guelph and District Association of Realtors