Candidates weigh in on lack of affordable housing

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Rising home prices and a lack of supply is making it difficult for first-time home buyers to get into the market, particularly young people. What would you do to address affordability and how would you make it financially possible for first-time home buyers, or millennials, to purchase their first home?

That question was posed by all candidates debate moderator and Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce  Executive Director Kelly Haywood at the Algonquin Theatre on May 17. Haywood was asking the question on behalf of one of the event’s sponsors.

Miller – PC

First up was incumbent MPP and  PC candidate Norm Miller who said he believes that a greater supply of housing is required to impact housing costs.

“We need to deal with all the various costs involved in developing a new home. You look down in Toronto and in the 905 area it’s like $140,000 just for all the permits and various things. Before you buy any land or build anything, the base cost is roughly $140,000, but that makes for very unaffordable housing, so we need to simplify the regulations so that we can streamline things and get the housing build more inexpensively,” he said.

Rhodes – Liberal

Liberal candidate Brenda Rhodes spoke of the need to put more money into the issue and lauded existing programs in co-operation with the Province. She spoke of an initiative in partnership with the District of Muskoka, which helps first-time home buyers come up with the down-payment to purchase their home.

“And that’s not only young people, that’s seniors also. There’s different stipulations on that, that can relate to other people, not just young people. And I think that program’s been very successful and it’s helped hundreds of people get into their homes.”

She also spoke of a rent supplement program. “That program supports people in rent portions and new regulations came out that make sure that rent cannot go up a certain amount, so we’re not getting pushed out into an open market and rents going up unfairly. It can only jump 1.5 per cent a year [this year it was set at 1.8 per cent by the Province.]That gives people more stability, more knowledge on where their rent is going and to help them out that way,” said Rhodes.

Horvath – NDP

NDP candidate Erin Horvath said her party is promising 65,000 new homes.

“You’re talking about how, so signing on to the National Housing Strategy, that’ll fund 20,000 units and then the additional 45,000 will come from provincial funding,” she said, adding that the NDP also plans on a one-time-investment of $3 million for co-operative accommodations, an alternative way of housing.

She said the NDP would also work with municipalities “to ensure that there’s an array of options –whether that’s tiny homes, or mid-rises or townhouses or stacked houses… basically we’re looking to see a variety of different options come to the grassroots.”

In terms of the rising price of housing, Horvath said the NDP is also proposing a speculation tax “where the market is getting overheated, looking at ways to settle it down for non-residents purchasing homes inside an area and inflating the price. These are a few things that we’re doing.”

Richter – Green

Green candidate Matt Richter said housing affordability was a number one issue in 2007 and remained an issue in the 2011 election, as well.

“The solutions are there, they’re there when we go out into the community. I’m really proud of the Unlock Affordable Housing campaign that we ran over the past half year,” he said, adding that input was gathered from mayors in Parry Sound and Huntsville as well as councillors and “they were all saying the same thing. The solutions are there, we just need the political will from the government. We need to offer the developers the right incentives, the right tools, so that they can get on with building hopefully 20 per cent of all new development to be deemed affordable but the District should not be on the hook for recouping those costs, because they just pass that on to the developer who is then passing it on to the millennial… But the backwards system under the status quo hasn’t worked.”

Mole – Independent

“Cost of housing in Ontario is a product of supply and demand,” said Independent candidate Jeff Mole. He questioned Miller’s proposal to reduce the cost of developing housing, saying: “Are those cost savings going to be passed on to the consumer or will the developer just use that to pad their income, their balance sheet and the customer will still pay the market rate of whatever the house is valued at?”

Mole said if he were elected, “I would throw more support behind co-op housing. So a strategic investment by government to create more co-op housing, which would make renting more affordable, which would allow younger people to come to the area and take on those jobs that are available.”

More on that…

The candidates were given a chance to follow-up on the issue.

Miller said he agrees with the Federal/Provincial program that enable first-time home buyers to get into the market.  “One of my kids actually bought their first house with a little assistance from that.

On the affordable housing side, Miller said government simply does not have the money to build the housing that is needed. “They just don’t have the money to build all the needed homes so we have to look at other ways. For rental, having a subsidy is a good way and efficient way of getting people the help that they need. We’re in favour of maintaining rent control but people also need good jobs, so that they can afford to buy a house so we have to work on things like skills development, so that our young people and others have the income so they can afford that new house,” Miller said.

“I agree with you Norm because the Liberals are doing this, that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Rhodes, referring to the rental subsidy as well as the program for first-time home buyers.

Rhodes also responded to Richter and said, “Matt you said that this was an issue in 2007 and 2011, and you know what, that’s an indication of a strong economy. That’s an economy that’s brightened up and that’s a positive thing.”

In terms of a variety of housing, Rhodes said, “I do agree that we need to look at progressive new ways of providing housing in our communities. That can be any other models that have been raised up here and if elected that would be something that I would like to look at.”

Horvath said the NDP would redesign inclusionary zone regulations “so that they actually do what they’re meant to do and ensure that there’s affordable housing in every development.”

She also spoke of minimum wage. “So we’ve permitted to put the minimum wage up as is planned because people need to be able to afford life, right, so their hourly wage needs to allow them to work towards home ownership.”

Horvath also noted that at The Hub, a not-for-profit organization created in concert with her husband, “we are working on a graduated home kind of ownership/rental option for young entrepreneurs who are trying to set up their business here in Muskoka, but need that support. And we don’t necessarily have to have government support onside but it certainly is much easier. Right now because of the way things are with government we’re working without that support, we’re working with public/private partnerships – meaning the not-for-profit and developers to do this, but it would sure be wonderful to have government onside.”

Richter said The Hub’s idea is something he’d be willing to bring to Queen’s Park “and illustrate that here we are working across party lines and let’s implement some of those good ideas coming from other parties and their experiences,” he said.

In terms of the term “affordable” housing, Richter said: “We have to move away from the term ‘affordable’ because there’s a stigma around that. We have to recognize that this is about finding appropriate housing, having enough appropriate housing in our area so people can afford to live up here and to work up here.”

Richter said he’s met people in the past two years who were looking to move to Huntsville, some with a starting salary of $55,000 per year but could not find housing. “This one person ended up moving to the Orangeville area. We actually had a nurse who was looking to relocate to Muskoka, she is now down in the downtown Toronto corridor,” he said.

Mole said finding ways to make strategic investments in housing is important. “If I were your MPP, I would be willing to work with any of the parties that want to form government that have good ideas on this.” What he would not do, said Mole, is sell off big chunks of public land “like the Liberals did in the Seaton development north of Ajax to enrich private developers. So I think we need a better model and we need to find a way to close that income gap and I think my plan for community economics will close the income gap, which helps make housing more affordable.”

Provincial elections take place June 7, 2018.

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2 Comments

  1. Brian Tapley on

    All interesting thoughts but here is another one.
    In our effort to make housing more energy efficient we have revised the building code several times. Each time we have increased the costs to build anything significantly. Maybe this is all to the better in that we will maybe use less energy, maybe have healthier home environments, maybe safer too but one has to ask when these goals are exceeding in cost the values they promote.
    The higher levels of government are big on writing codes and then simply downloading them onto the lower tier municipal governments. This costs locally!

    A more interesting question to ask the candidates is how their party plans to handle Ontario’s debt??
    Ontario has the largest non sovereign state debt in the world right now, around 28 billion dollars I’m told.
    It really matters not who you vote for, the winner will inherit this debt and they will have to pay it somehow.
    By incurring this debt the Liberals have saddled our Province with the future costs to pay the debt off. This money could be used for public housing, public transit, better health care, faster and more widespread internet…. you name it but it won’t be. No it will be paid to some large banks somewhere, most likely not even in Canada and you and I will never see any of the benefits we ask our politicians about as there simply will be no money to accomplish any of these lovely goals.

    When I was in grade school I got an allowance. Life was simple then. If I could not afford it, then I could not have whatever it was I wanted. I had to do without, or wait and save.
    Our governments have not operated this way. They borrow their way into your heart by giving you all kinds of “neat stuff” today. They don’t tell you very clearly that you will be paying for this stuff tomorrow, and the day after and so on until you live to be 300 years old! While you are paying taxes to cover this, you will not have that money for anything else. Remember this when you vote.

  2. Rob Millman on

    Ms. Horvath: I agree with most of your responses, especially your mention of “tiny” homes (although bylaws may have to be revised regarding minimum size of dwelling). My first caveat would be that inclusive zones are anethma to people seeking affordable housing; as it creates a ghetto. NIMBY be damned: mixed housing is the way of the future. Also, I find it noteworthy that the “minimum wage” increase has not had the desired effect: too many establishments employing minimum-wage workers have terminated large numbers of them; maintaining the bottom line by sacrificing their level of service. A “living wage”, which varies considerably geographically, or used in conjunction with a “basic income”, would result in more first-time home buyers.
    .
    A radical idea to increase supply without construction would be to regulate air b’n’b’s. I don’t know if this is even possible. How do you tell a property-owner that he can’t rent an apartment/granny flat/basement/top floor basically to the highest bidder. They have driven up rental costs everywhere, as more and more units come on line.
    .
    Thank you, Tamara, for highlighting this portion of the debate for us.

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