Finding A Place to Call Home

It’s increasingly difficult for younger people and new families to find an affordable place to call home. We have Places to Grow legislation, which is intended to rein in urban sprawl and preserve a ‘greenbelt’ around Southern Ontario’s built-up urban area. At the same time, provincial growth projections mandate all municipalities to actively plan for more growth with specific population targets. One estimate suggests 3.5 million people will move to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region in the next 25 years. But so far, this has only led to more suburban developments starved of employment opportunities; a choice of either lower paid local employment or more costly and lengthy commutes, road congestion, and poorer quality of life. Meanwhile in major cities the size of an average high-rise condo continues to shrink. Neither housing option serves existing needs well. (In New York, ‘micro apartments’ are about 275 to 300 square feet). 

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation called on the provincial government to freeze all urban boundaries for two years until new population projections can be made, based on the latest 2016 census data. The Foundation says the province is already projecting lower population growth than it was four years ago. “There’s enough of a question now about the population forecasts that we shouldn’t be bringing any more land in until the 2016 census is released.”

According to the Foundation, the method of assessing how much land is needed for development also must be standardized.

“Many planners have looked at past housing trends to predict future needs. If patterns show there will be a desire for low density detached houses, the municipality then expands its boundaries to provide space for those homes, even though it may already have the capacity for higher density townhomes or apartments.” (Freeze urban boundaries for two years says Greenbelt group, Tess Kalinowski, Toronto Star, August 17, 2016)

The Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) blames Places to Grow legislation and its intensification requirements for rocketing real estate prices. But data shows that other cities without intensification requirements have experienced just as much, or more, volatility in housing prices. “In 2014, the Royal Bank of Canada teamed up with the non-profit Pembina Institute to investigate what is driving house prices up. Their evidence-based study found lower interest rates and favourable mortgage rules were the primary culprit.” (More sprawl won’t solve affordable housing shortage, Tim Gray, Toronto Star, May 25, 2016)

Here in Innisfil, new housing prices seem to have galloped higher right along with Toronto prices and only offer ‘relative’ value, i.e. more space for the price. It’s debatable whether they are, all factors considered, more affordable. (We complain about the cost of everything just as much as anybody else, so where are the savings?)

Following an independent review of the legislation (Crombie Report) the province has announced further policy changes to limit sprawl:

  • Requiring “pre-zoning” along transit corridors to guarantee dense development if cities want to get future transit funding.
  • Ensuring that at least 60 per cent of all new residential developments in municipalities are in existing “built-up” areas. [formerly 40%]
  • Substantially increasing employment density so greenfield spaces within cities can’t be eaten up by things such as sprawling warehouses. [80 people & jobs per hectare, formerly 50]
  • Requiring municipalities to provide “transparent” calculations to show how they are properly using land to meet smart growth targets.

(Ontario setting new rules to end era of suburban sprawl, Sam Grewal, Toronto Star, May 10, 2016)

It’s interesting that builders’ response is to still look for the biggest plot of vacant land they can find:

“But in recent years, the city’s hot housing market … has turned sprawling GTA golf courses into lucrative real estate investments. World-renowned Glen Abbey in Oakville and Copper Creek in Vaughan are among a half-dozen other GTA courses that have recently confirmed plans to eventually replace their fairways with subdivisions.” (GTA developers targeting golf courses, Noor Javed, Toronto Star, March 27, 2016)

It seems to me that we haven’t exploited all of the possible options to create more ‘affordable’ housing.

  • We could be building more smaller homes with a better use of space instead of the 2,000+ square feet that’s typical now. [The “Tiny House Movement” (architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes) is an interesting niche phenomenon.]
  • We could make far better use of prefabricated building components to reduce inefficient and slower on-site construction. Many interesting approaches exist elsewhere. Why not here?
  • Adding some low-rise buildings to the development mix might increase affordable family-sized living spaces and still achieve a reasonable density.

The supply of available land continues to shrink while the number of people wanting to occupy it continues to increase. That sounds like an impossible policy dilemma. Following the builders’ mantra of focusing on what they say people ‘prefer’ – based on what they have always built – is no solution. Builders have to contribute to affordability with practical, creative innovations of their own – in design, and technology.

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5 thoughts on “Finding A Place to Call Home

  1. Is anyone surprised that developers have taken control of Innisfil Township. The writing was on the wall when Innisfil built that beautiful community center at Innisfil Beach Road and Highway 11; right in the middle of all of the major redevelopment of Alcona. Only problem is that there is no development there. I am certain that the youth of Innisfil enjoy hanging out at the central library. Lower housing prices and the savings get eaten up with the commuter costs, especially if it is a two income household, and two vehicles are being used.
    The township, paying to develop the properties that are owned by the developers that probably own, or control the contractors performing the infrastructure work, Not bad; getting paid to develop your own property. Interesting that the are no proposed, or confirmed major tenants. Wonder why the township executive does not want to publicly reveal the short list of three contractors who will bid for the rights … do I hear “TACC; Con-Drain; or Con-Elco” !

    • The location of the rec centre was a ‘political’ choice but attracts a lot of use regardless. The IdeaLab/Library is also very well used by all ages and is something of a cultural rec centre in its own right. Sorry, I don’t understand what tenant project you’re referring to.

      • Of course, the center is utilized, for the fortunate residents that can get to it. The library is wonderful; however I do not understand what you meant by the phrase “cultural center”. Any community facility should be welcoming to any/all residents and visitors to the area.
        What do mean: “tenant project”?
        Might that be the industrial properties that Innisfil wants to fund for the developers? I stand to be corrected but I have been led to believe that Innisfil wants to borrow fifty million dollars, towards the cost, yet there are no definite tenants in line for the properties.
        Please clarify what your response was directed to.

      • The rec centre location was an unsatisfactory compromise although enthusiastically supported by many parents. The town’s own report warned that accessibility would be a challenge for young people, and I noted that in one of my early articles. By ‘cultural’ I just meant that the library activities are not sports oriented. I didn’t understand your original reference to tenants but I see you’re referring to the ’employment lands’. The point of this article was, how do we turn “people and jobs per hectare” into livable and affordable spaces for families?

      • Any recreation facility would have been welcome, at the time. As the population in the Alcona area was growing, nothing else was. Something, family oriented, had to become a reality. There was plenty of land that could have become available, that would have been more accessible than the current location. Maybe the Councils, then and now, could have worked with the development proposals, to encourage (???) the developers to assist, as part of their residential planning.
        The employment lands is a whole different story, yet similar. Innisfil borrows the money to pay for the infrastructure, without any guarantee of the future benefits. The developers, in some cases, control the companies that will be awarded (?) the contracts to install these facilities; they are, essentially, being paid to develop their own property. How can they lose!
        Sorry to be repetitive, but I ask once more: Why the shroud around the names of the three company’s that are being considered for the contracts? Is something going on, behind closed doors, that the public should be made aware of?
        This would not be the first time that this council has attempted to push a deal through, without disclosure. Do I hear “InnPower”!
        Next election should be interesting, if the residents, present and future, have a solid interest in Innisfil. Otherwise, we might have to prepare to use Barrie as our address, not Innisfil.
        Just my opinion.

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