Affordable Housing Idea Works

Winnipeg Free Press, December 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Affordable Housing Idea Works


The Selinger government recently introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to encourage or require new developments to include affordable housing. This step hopefully will lead to a wider range of housing options in new developments.

The idea is simple: Municipalities will be able to enact "inclusionary zoning," requiring a percentage of any new development (usually 10 to 30 per cent) to be "affordable." Municipalities will define what affordable means, both for the initial sale and to ensure it remains affordable over the long term.

Inclusionary zoning can be mandatory or voluntary, and usually developers receive some form of incentive in return. It works best in areas where there is strong demand for housing and house prices are rising.

Inclusionary zoning is used across North America to increase the amount of affordable housing in new developments and sometimes in redevelopments and infill housing. Usually, the housing created is for ownership, not rental. Although it is a good tool for the development of housing affordable to middle-income households who could not otherwise afford to buy, it usually isn't used to create social housing, as a significant government subsidy is required to make social housing financially viable.

Properly implemented, inclusionary zoning does not create a hit on developers. Good programs are flexible and include tools to encourage developers.

In Langford, B.C., for example, density allowances are increased, enabling developers to build (and sell) more units at a price high enough to cover the costs of building affordable units. Other municipalities have waived development fees or other costs and may fast-track the project through the approvals process.

Municipal governments -- as with provincial and federal governments -- have a responsibility to ensure their citizens are well-housed. But, unlike other government levels, municipalities have fewer resources to draw on. Instead, many use the tools they have available, such as density bonusing, which allows a developer to build more units than the zoning mandates; allowing secondary suites and laneway housing; developing bylaws that control demolition and conversion of residential buildings; and including housing in the city's development plan and other planning documents.

In fact, Our Winnipeg, the City of Winnipeg's development plan, clearly supports "the development of safe and affordable housing throughout the city. …

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