On Wednesday, April 6th, Lanark County Council convened a special meeting of their Community Services Committee to receive and discuss a report from SHS Consulting and WSP and the county’s director of social services, Emily Hollington on Municipal Tools to Support Affordable Housing. The report is the culmination of well over a year’s work involving multiple public meetings, stakeholder sessions, and survey analysis spurred by the unprecedented rise in house prices combined with the challenges the COVID pandemic has raised for local economies.
The survey brought forward some main themes from participants including the need and interest for localized definitions of affordable housing across the different municipalities in Lanark County. And the attention needed on some policies and provisions in the current municipal Official Plans and Zoning By – laws that present barriers to the development of a more diverse housing supply. It clearly pointed out the public’s perception of the demand for affordable housing, including rental and supportive housing options across Lanark County as well a desire for different development standards for affordable units and/or alternative housing forms.
The report revealed that based on median and average family incomes in the region, the benchmarks for an affordable house purchase price was $319K and for a monthly rent it was $915. This is based on the provincial policy statement that marks the annual costs of accommodation to be no higher than 30% of the family income to be considered affordable. Neither of these numbers has been achievable in Lanark for several years. The surveys found that 16% of homeowners and 47% of renters are currently paying more than 30% of their income on housing.
The presentation sparked a lively and prolonged discussion on what municipal councils could and could not do to get developers and builders to create affordable units. Carleton Place Deputy Mayor Sean Redmond, who has extensive career experience in construction, pointed to the fact that almost every new home and apartment being built recently in his area has an excess of luxury features, even on so-called modest builds. He noted that if things like 9 ft ceilings, granite counter tops, and attached garages were removed from the equation, prices would start to approach the affordable mark. Mayor Doug Black spoke of the number of speculators whose investments and house flips have worked to keep prices high. (This is something the federal government addressed in their recent budget with the action of taxing home flip financial gains as business income unless the holder lived on the property for 12 months).
One statistic in the large amount of data the report brought to the table, raised concern. That was the estimate of 4,000 vacant residential units in the county. Staff clarified that the number included some seasonal properties, but was also a result of speculative investors not wanting to take on landlord responsibilities, temporary vacancies, and secondary suites that are removed from the market for various reasons.
When it comes to future builds, consensus around the table, including the reports’ authors was that 25% was an appropriate goal for affordable units in new subdivisions or apartments. Recommendations in the reports’ conclusion ranged from setting affordable build targets, to permitting up to 2 secondary units per occupied lot, to permitting increased density and building heights, to establishing an affordable housing fund to finance incentives and other initiatives related to affordable housing.
The report’s recommendations will be forwarded to county municipalities and county committees for consideration of which actions to take. The full report can be accessed through the county’s website at lanarkcounty.ca