If you follow conversations about affordable housing at all, you are likely familiar with IZ, or Inclusionary Zoning. Locally, we are hearing the term fairly often as many local municipalities are in various stages of considering or implementing IZ. Inclusionary zoning allows a municipality to require all new developments to have a certain percentage of affordable housing, and as I mentioned, many local municipalities are looking into it.
I became quite familiar with the term when I ran for local council in 2018. And I felt that it was definitely one tool that we should be implementing as a way to address the housing crisis. It seemed obvious to me at the time - we need more affordable housing and lots of new homes are being developed, so why wouldn't we put rules in place to require at least some of those new homes were affordable?
Three years later and I am less certain that IZ is the solution many of us had hoped it could be.
I definitely get the appeal, especially for elected officials who are hearing constantly from the community about the need for more affordable housing. Requiring a minimum amount of affordable homes from all new builds definitely feels like we are doing...something. But doing 'something' is not necessarily doing the 'right thing'. And to be clear, I am not convinced that inclusionary zoning is necessarily the wrong thing, but here are some of the reasons my thinking has shifted over time...
I believe strongly that one thing we need to address housing affordability is more housing supply. Supply on its own won't solve the problem, of course, but lack of supply seems to make everything worse. There is at least some evidence that inclusionary zoning can reduce new housing builds. Here is just one example from Portland. And, I know it feels like there is so much building happening, however, as this recent report states, "In the three years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, population grew nearly twice as fast as new housing units were being built."
I'm also becoming less certain that we should expect private developers to get us out of the housing crisis, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, new housing is the most expensive way to provide affordable housing. We have seen locally that any developments that include some affordable housing, well, you can likely count on one hand how many units are added. Even with IZ, it seems that 5-10% of units, at most, would be added. At least it's something, right? Perhaps. But I can't help but wonder if there is a better way to fund the affordable housing we need. Just one idea would be the creation of a levy of sorts that developers pay which is dedicated to maintaining or creating affordable housing in the community. I have a lot more to say about what that could look like, but will save it for another day.
Secondly, while I know that housing is essential in providing stability in one's life, having access to other supports is often beneficial as well. Simply having developers add a percentage of homes below market rent, may not meet the needs of many in our community, However, we have lots of non-profits doing great work in this area. What those non-profits often need however, is money. If instead of having builders build new affordable units, we had them contribute (significantly!) to these non-profits, might we come away with more homes that include any needed supports as well?
Lastly, I think one of the most important things we should be discussing in regards to affordable housing, is that we must have governments get back to providing social/community housing. It feels to me that the focus on inclusionary zoning shifts responsibility away from governments to drastically increase social housing, and on to private developers. While I think there is an important role for developers in providing the much needed supply of housing in general, I'm not convinced they are ever going to solve the housing crisis. We need governments to do that.
So, those are a few of my thoughts on inclusionary zoning, but I am definitely open to learning more. My thinking has shifted a lot in the last few years on this, and I suspect it will continue to do so. What do you think about inclusionary zoning?
At the May 11th Regional Council committee of the whole, council will discuss the "Affordable Housing Framework: Building a Better Future for All". I have outlined some of the main issues from the staff report (begins on page 61 of the agenda).
Firstly, the report states that more work must be done in order to provide the much needed affordable housing in our region: "The growing need for affordable housing has highlighted the importance of strategic Regional investments to create housing stability and achieve affordability for all. The amount of affordable housing within the Region of Waterloo is currently inadequate and addressing this issue is a major focus of Council."
Staff note that this work can't be done alone: "Region staff has been working collaboratively with area municipalities, housing and service providers, and the development community to identify sites and resources that will maximize the number of new affordable and supportive homes created through the Framework."
And addressing the housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach. Staff believe this approach could involve: the creation of an affordable housing land portfolio (where the Region leverages lands they own for the development of affordable housing); a "Requests for Proposals Plan"; and an annual "plan to facilitate the engagement of Regional Council, community members, those we serve, and our partners in realizing the vision and meeting the objectives in the Framework.
This 5 year strategy seeks to create 2500 new affordable homes by 2026. In order to achieve that goal, the next steps, as outlined in the report, include:
• secure the right staff team to implement the Framework;
• Develop a community engagement plan;
• Complete site readiness assessments of existing Regionally-owned lands; and
• Finalize the elements of a land acquisition and disposition strategy.
This approach prioritizes people experiencing homelessness for housing based on their
needs and preferences using the Region’s coordinated access system. Staff believe that such an approach "enables targeted, multi-pronged approaches to supporting people into stable housing."
Staff note that affordable housing options should be paired with support measures which "promotes recovery from homelessness and longer-term housing stability. There is an urgent and growing need for housing support funding to address the unmet support needs of people experiencing homelessness in the region."
The report states that consistent provincial funding is essential to offering all of the needed services and supports. From the report: "As a social determinant of health, housing is foundational to promoting a healthy community for all. While affordable homes are essential in achieving this vision, the need for directed and sustained health funding for housing supports through the provincial government is vital to the ability of the Region and partners to end homelessness."
The report outlines the $20 million capital funding (2021-2022) for affordable housing here:
The committee of the whole meeting is May 11th, beginning at 9am. You can watch the live webcast here.
The agenda for the May 11th #RegionalCouncil Committee of the Whole meeting lists the temporary COVID bike lanes an an agenda item. The report starts on page 100 of the 122 page package. I assume that not everyone has the time or interest to review that report in its entirety, so here are a few things that stood out to me from the report.
As a quick reminder, the temporary bike lanes were installed during summer 2020 on the following Regional roads:
•King Street/Coronation Boulevard/Dundas Street: Bishop Street to Beverly Street, Cambridge (this was removed early due to opposition);
•Westmount Road: Block Line Road to University Avenue, Kitchener and City of Waterloo;
• Frederick Street: Weber Street to Lancaster Street, Kitchener;
• Erb Street: Westmount Road to Caroline Street, City of Waterloo;
•Erb Street: Peppler Street to Margaret Avenue (one direction only), City of Waterloo; and
•Bridgeport Road, King Street to Margaret Avenue (one direction only), City of Waterloo.
In the report, staff note: "previous surveys reflected a majority opinion representative of drivers for the most part, who were against temporary bike lanes and the minority opinion representative of cyclists who supported these temporary installations."
So, in this "wrap up survey, more specific questions were asked to determine which particular locations respondents used, what mode of transportation was used, how often that mode was used, and for what purpose. The survey also asked specific demographic questions to determine what sort of participants were responding and gave respondents the ability to complete the survey as a user of more than one type of transportation."
Staff broke down the data based on 'user' type, and the report summarizes the main takeaways for each of those groups. Note that a single survey respondent could be classified as more than one user (for example, someone may be both a driver and a pedestrian). Here are the details taken directly from the staff report:
Cyclist Responses: 209 of the respondents identified as cyclists and the overall satisfaction rating cyclists gave the bike lanes was 7.4/10. The top positive responses indicated that cyclists liked being able to stay off the sidewalk, they understood how to use the bike lanes, the lanes made it easy to travel quickly and they also made it easier to share the road with drivers. Most of the respondents indicated that they used the temporary lanes primarily for errands, exercise or leisure, and most did so a few times weekly or a few times a month.
Driver Responses: 622 of the respondents identified as drivers and the overall satisfaction rating drivers gave the bike lanes was 3.5/10. The top negative response was that the bike lanes did not meet their needs as a driver. Most drivers also noted that they had to drive more slowly while beside the temporary bike lanes. Most of the respondents indicated that they travelled on roads with bike lanes daily, or a few times a week. Westmount Road was the most used location. Of note, 61% of drivers perceived that the bike lanes added delay to travel time, and 56% indicated that they are not willing to increase travel time to include bike lanes for cyclists on the existing roadway.
Pedestrian Responses: 191 of the respondents identified as pedestrians and the overall satisfaction rating pedestrians gave the bike lanes was 5.5/10. The top positive response from pedestrians was that they felt safe or comfortable walking beside the bike lanes and they also understood the purpose of the bike lanes. The top locations for pedestrian activity were Westmount Road, Erb Street and Bridgeport Road. Of note, the pedestrian usage pattern was well dispersed with users indicating daily, weekly and monthly usage.
Public Transit Responses: 36 of the respondents identified as Public Transit users and the overall satisfaction rating this group gave was 4.3/10. The highest scores in this audience relate to the fact that there was good understanding as to the purpose of the bike lanes. This category of respondents reflect the highest daily use of the road ways where bike lanes were located with Westmount Road being reflected as used most often.
As part of this survey, staff also wanted to hear from residents living in homes fronting onto roads where the temporary bike lanes were installed. In this regard, there were 47 respondents with the largest number indicating residence on Westmount Road or Coronation Boulevard. The overall satisfaction rating from this group was 4.4/10. This audience understood the purpose of the bike lanes and the most positive response in this group was that they felt that the bike lanes caused traffic to drive more slowly in front of their homes. (end of report summary)
The issue of 'drive times' is fascinating to me. It seems to me that there is simply too much emphasis on not negatively impacting drive times. However, as someone who watches an awful lot of council meetings, I hear councillors often say the issue they most often hear from residents on is traffic concerns, mostly speed. This CBC article says that the temporary bike lanes led to an average decrease of 13% in driver speeds. The Region's report suggests that cyclists, pedestrians, and residents saw reduced speeds as a positive, but drivers view it as a negative. In addition to feeling less safe with speeding vehicles on our roads, we know that collisions that happen at higher rates cause more harm and deaths.
I am most concerned about this statement found in the report (noted above): Of drivers that responded to the survey, 56% indicated that they are not willing to increase travel time to include bike lanes for cyclists on the existing roadway. I feel like residents advocating for safe active transportation options are asking for such a small slice of the pie, but this statement doesn't give me much hope that we'll even receive that.
What does give me hope though, are the many residents who are calling for safe transportation for all road users. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to stay informed on these issues and make your voices heard!