How to get more low-cost housing – Opinion/editorial – How to get more low-cost housing
July 28, 2008

A promising approach to delivering more affordable housing is being pursued by social activists, planners and politicians alike.

It’s called “inclusionary zoning,” and it works by requiring developers of all major new residential projects to set aside a certain percentage of units for low-income people. In return, they are offered lower development charges, increased densities and other benefits.

Society would benefit by having shelter available for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. And developers would be benefit, too, if density limits were raised to allow them to build more units. That’s the way it works in the United States, where inclusionary zoning has been successfully introduced in more than 400 municipal jurisdictions.

Experts say the system works best in large cities where a strong real estate market assures developers of hefty profits, thereby making them more amenable to set-asides for affordable housing. In that regard, Toronto would seem an ideal candidate for this approach.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, chair of the city’s affordable housing committee, says he is close to finishing a 10-year plan to boost this category of housing, and inclusionary zoning is an essential part of that vision. “This is a must,” he said in a recent interview.

Some developments, such as those planned for Toronto’s waterfront, already include affordable housing targets. And the city has made ad hoc deals with individual developers in the past. It would be better, however, to have a rule treating all developments equally.

Industry opposition appears to be the main reason this reform hasn’t yet been introduced in Canadian municipalities. Many developers understandably prefer a system that leaves them free to make a deal on affordable housing, or not – whichever proves more profitable. But a standardized approach would ensure that low-income people have more access to quality housing.

As Carol Goar reported on this page last week, the idea makes some urban activists uneasy because it would let Ottawa and Queen’s Park off the hook. The two senior governments are under pressure to provide more funding for social housing.

But there is more than one way to increase the supply of affordable housing. When Mammoliti brings his plan forward this fall, it deserves serious consideration by city council.

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