21 DECEMBER 2023 - You can’t turn on the radio, read a newspaper, or have a conversation at the coffee shop without hearing that we’re in a housing crisis. Buying a new house is simply out of reach for young families and new Canadians. Affording the rent is a struggle for too many. Students at our universities and colleges are forced to live in cramped, inadequate housing.
What to do about it? There are many opinions, but all the answers to that question revolve around one thing: build more housing. It’s a fundamental law of economics that prices rise when demand outstrips supply, as they have for many years. It’s also a basic law of economics, and construction that building new housing takes time and land.
This is the essence of the debate currently raging across Ontario around provincial policies related to land use. The previous Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing made some decisions to amend various upper-tier official plans. However, those amendments were subsequently put on pause to allow additional input from affected lower-tier municipalities (including here in Waterloo Region) on whether the Minister’s modifications were necessary and should be maintained.
The Waterloo Region Home Builders (WRHBA) applauds the decisions made by the lower-tier municipalities within the region that took a position endorsing the Minister’s modifications. In doing so, they took positive action to address the housing shortage plaguing our communities. The decisions made today will reverberate for generations to come, though we have a long way to go.
In 2022, the Region of Waterloo adopted an official plan (ROPA 6) that designated only 150 hectares for settlement expansion in the community area. In plain language, the Region of Waterloo endorsed just 150 hectares of new housing - far below the targets outlined in the Provincial Policy Statement and far below what is needed to accommodate our booming population. The Region of Waterloo’s plan would have seen that growth almost entirely accommodated with high-rise development and concentrated in the downtown cores of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge. This densification takes longer to build, and with the protracted approvals process and tempered market conditions, it is far from certain that developers will build these tall towers. Further, since intensification results in a high percentage of smaller units, the needs of growing families are often not fully accommodated. The Minister’s modifications allow for a more diverse housing mix and increased housing choice for families while still maintaining transit-supportive densities and other essential planning principles.
The Minister’s modifications in Waterloo Region added a more substantial 2100-hectare expansion for future community areas. Those modifications effectively added 1977 hectares of land to the community area, creating approximately 39,540 housing units based on a conservative estimate of 20 units per gross hectare.
What's crucial to note is that the Minister’s approval aligned closely with the forecasted population of our region and the needs of families who wish to live here. This is not just the WRHBA saying it; expert professional planners and demographers confirm it. In fact, the actions taken by lower-tier municipal councils in the Region of Waterloo demonstrate the need to expand the community area and add more development lands. It's validating witnessing the united support from the local area municipal councils expressing their support to retain the bulk of the provincial expansions. However, it's equally crucial to recognize the nuances within these endorsements. For instance, the Township of Wilmot council advocates for a part of the expansion lands to be dedicated to mixed-use employment opportunities rather than solely for housing. Similarly, the Township of Woolwich Council emphasizes a balanced approach by supporting expansion while maintaining a gradual growth policy. This wise policy demonstrates that our lower-tier municipal governments have a clear view of their community needs and a plan for economic and population growth.
These nuanced stances align closely with the earlier conclusions and result in a policy that gives municipalities and land developers the flexibility to meet market demands. In other words, these recent lower-tier municipal decisions should be seen as the fine-tuning necessary to strike an ideal balance between the provincial housing mandate and our region’s needs. To be clear, supporting these expansions of community areas for more development does not mean that all the new housing in our region will be in these expansion areas, far from it. Undoubtedly, there will be increased density and more high-rise developments in our downtowns. Likewise, there will be more purpose-built, affordable rentals, more seniors housing, more medium-rise, and more modular construction. There will be more of it all because the market demands housing choice.
The market is presently out of balance, and only when we significantly increase supply to meet market demand and family needs through housing choice will we start to move the needle on affordability. No amount of planning, regulation, or good intentions will change this basic fact. It is heartening to see so many of our local municipal councils recognizing this and making the courageous decisions to ensure there is sufficient land and sufficient choice in this region’s housing market.
After thorough deliberation and analysis, our lower-tier municipal staff and councils arrived at these conclusions in full cognizance of their community needs and in the face of opposition from forces more interested in preserving the status quo and reducing housing choices for existing residents and newcomers to our community. It took courage for the municipal leaders to make these decisions. Future generations – and everyone concerned with our future – should thank them.
This moment is a testament to the synergy between expertise, local governance, and community needs. A testament that propels us forward in tackling one of the most pressing challenges of our time: supplying quality housing and choice for all residents.
For further information, please contact Marie Schroeder, Executive Officer, at Marie-Schroeder@wrhba.com.
Since 1946, the Waterloo Region Home Builders Association (WRHBA) has been the recognized leader and the voice of the new residential home construction, land development, and professional renovation industries in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, ON.
We are an association of knowledgeable, trusted, resourceful, and local professionals, and together, we create vibrant, thriving, and sustainable communities across our regional area comprised of three municipalities and four townships. WRHBA member companies construct over 90% of all new residential construction, making it one of the most significant economic engines driving the Region's economy, creating over 22,000 jobs, 1.5 billion in wages, and 3 billion in investment value.
As an Association, we are invested in bringing insight to public policy decision-makers at all levels of government on matters that affect the residential development and construction industry in addressing housing affordability and choice for consumers.