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Gimme shelter: panel looks at why it’s so hard to afford housing


The need for housing that people can afford is a supply problem arising from market dysfunction. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on this in order to tackle it head on.

That includes the residential construction industry.

Not enough housing is being built for working families, including the middle class.

Affordability is a word that is now inextricably linked to housing. You’ll often read it in [newspapers], hear it used during banter at coffee shops and restaurants, or even say it in everyday

conversation with friends and neighbours. It’s unavoidable and is not going away anytime soon.

Little consideration is given to the actual supply of housing, which is the root cause of affordability issues in the GTA. That problem is compounded by how little thought is given to the associated economic, social and health consequences of unaffordable housing costs. An inadequate supply leads to new-home buyers and renters paying too much, or living in substandard conditions with the associated health consequences. This affects the economy, investment, learning, employment and productivity.

This is a critical moment for housing of all kinds, especially for millennials who are struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder, often relying on their baby boomer parents for a down payment.

So for the sake of millennials’ quality of life (and boomers’ sanity), something has to be done through supply-side economics. It’s not a silver-bullet issue: there is a process our competitive industry needs to go through from conception to completion.

It’s important to understand affordability and what it means for Ontario. That’s why RESCON sponsored a Toronto think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), to conduct independent research on housing affordability in Ontario. We launched this report at an event called “The Escalating Challenge of Home Ownership: Causes, Costs & Risks” recently at Ryerson University.

A number of housing industry leaders, government officials and academics attended the event, including Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McMeekin and Toronto Councillor Ana Bailao, who chairs the city’s affordable housing committee.

They both made remarks that were very important. Bailao talked about Toronto’s underdeveloped “housing spectrum,” a range of housing that’s in demand for people at all income levels. This is not just affordable housing. There is a dearth of homes and condos available for millennials who want to have families: we need to see more three- and four-bedroom condos being built, and mid-rise construction is a huge, untapped resource to fulfill that need.

Among McMeekin’s most interesting comments, he said that, despite wide-spread criticism, the housing industry (residential construction) “is not the problem, it’s the solution” to Ontario’s housing pressure.

So I ask you: if we’re going to develop the housing spectrum, what parts of the GTHA would you like to see an increase in the supply of mid-rise buildings and multi-unit apartments?

After all, we have to start somewhere.

Here’s what I suggest: the region’s municipalities should aggressively open up main streets and avenues to mid-rise development to give the housing spectrum a boost.

Given our cash-strapped fiscal state of government, a new market-driven approach is the only solution.

(Part 2 to come: The Shelter Consumption Affordability Ratio.)


About the Author: Richard Lyall, president of RESCON, has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. 

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