Inclusionary zoning will mandate affordable units in new developments
LIZ MONTEIRO LIZ MONTEIRO IS A WATERLOO REGION-BASED GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER FOR THE RECORD. REACH HER VIA EMAIL: LMONTEIRO@THERECORD.COM
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City and regional planners are working together to implement inclusionary zoning across the region, allowing municipalities to mandate affordable units in new developments. The move comes after the province introduced an omnibus housing bill last fall, the More Homes Built Faster Act, which aims to build 1.5 million homes by 2031. Known as Bill 23, the housing legislation sets aside five per cent of units as affordable units, in developments along major transit routes such as the Ion route. The area’s three cities and the region want a “region-wide” approach to inclusionary zoning, to ensure rules are consistent across the region, Waterloo planner Michelle Lee told a public meeting on inclusionary zoning at the Waterloo Memorial Recreational Complex Monday night. “We want the same framework in each city,” Lee told more than 60 people who attended the meeting. Municipalities will come up with their own policies, which are expected to come to each respective council for approval later this year. “We want to be singing from the same songbook,” she said. The housing bill sets parameters for inclusionary zoning: no more than five per cent of units in larger developments will be required to be affordable, for a maximum 25-year term. The affordable units must also not exceed 80 per cent of the average market rent. The province is also enabling flexibility by permitting some affordable housing units be off site, Lee said. But developers will not be allowed to offer cash in lieu of creating the actual affordable units. In some recent Waterloo Region projects, developers have donated money to Menno Homes, a local builder of affordable housing, after being pressed by residents and councillors about providing affordable housing in their projects. The Zehr Group donated $250,000 to Menno Homes as part of its Belmont Village tower. The developer also donated $350,000 to an affordable housing provider in seeking approvals for a tower at King and Ottawa streets. Bill 23 will also allow up any residential lot to have up to three housing units with no special planning approvals, in a bid to add affordable homes, including basement units or tiny homes, in areas zoned for single-family homes. The three cities and the region have been studying how to implement inclusionary zoning in new developments but had not been able to implement it until Bill 23 was passed. Some residents say requiring five per cent of units to be affordable is not enough. “It’s way too low. We need to be much more bold,” said Peggy Nickels, who lives in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. She wants the affordable housing units to be in perpetuity rather than for 25 years. She also worries that units that charge 80 per cent of the average market rent won’t actually be affordable and the changes are “still missing a huge number of people who can’t afford it.” However, local municipalities don’t have the power to change the parameters, which are set by the province. Matthew Blevins, Cambridge senior planner, said the new changes around inclusionary zoning are “modest but meaningful.” The new zoning is trying to fill in the gap between deeply affordable housing and market-rent units, he said. “Even if we add one more unit, that is one unit we didn’t have the day before,” Blevins said. Terral McBay, a social worker with a local agency, said he was hoping inclusionary zoning would help some of the people he works for. Many are on fixed disability pensions and can’t afford 80 per cent of the average market rent. “I’m not optimistic that it will support them. It’s not targeting the folks I work with,” he said. McBay said he would like to see a more aggressive number of units instead of just five per cent. “We need a little more push if we are going to move the needle,” he said. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark has said the bill will make housing more accessible by mandating developers to build more affordable and purposebuilt rentals with exemptions on fees such as development charges. Municipalities have voiced concerns about not being able to collect development charges, which they say are needed to pay for infrastructure such as roads and sewers for the new housing projects.