The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently issued a report outlining the magnitude of Canada’s housing crisis. Its findings were stark. Canada needs to build 3.5 million new units by 2030 to have any chance of restoring affordability.
Last week, the Ottawa Planning and Housing Committee had an opportunity to fill a drop in that bucket, when it considered a new housing development from the Queenswood United Church. Announced with much positive fanfare, the church proposed building 81 residences on its existing property, in a mix of stacked dwelling units and townhouses. A third of the units would be priced below market rent. The innovative and compassionate project would give the church a path toward long-term financial sustainability while filling an immediate need for housing that many people in the area face. It’s the perfect type of proposal for a church looking to serve its community.
Everyone would win.
But some people don’t see the project that way. And instead of approving the project after months of consultation and planning, the committee, composed of Ottawa’s City Council members, voted to delay it.
What was the reason for their decision, you ask? Some of the Councillors would have their constituents believe it was a disagreement about a deficit of nine parking spots. But the real reason for their vote was more likely because some people opposed to the project started a petition. While that petition did refer to parking, other issues featured more prominently. For example, the petition claimed that the project would have a ‘negative effect on existing home values’ and would ‘penalize long-established homeowners.’
The petitioners could have saved some ink by boiling their issues down into one concise line – “not in my backyard”, or NIMBY.
NIMBY isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s an ugly attitude that has long contributed to the housing crisis in our country. The NIMBY garbage the Queenwood United Church project has been subjected to is the same thing that local municipal Councillors across Canada cave to over and over again. I would know–I served as Chair of a municipal planning committee for over a decade and experienced firsthand how NIMBY attitudes will attempt to kill housing projects.
NIMBYism is more than a nuisance; it is a policy and leadership failure that’s stopping Canadians from having a place to call home. NIMBYs don’t want to work constructively towards an outcome that benefits everyone, they just want the project to go away. So instead of prioritizing getting housing built, politicians faced with housing-related NIMBYism will use bureaucratic processes to avoid making decisions; delaying projects long enough to kick the problem into the future or cause a developer to cancel the project altogether.
That isn’t to say that existing residents of a community shouldn’t have a say on new developments. Politicians have to ensure that communities have an active role in shaping their own futures. Prior to new developments starting, consultations on new developments should be held, and all reasonable concerns that arise from them should be addressed. Many times this process does work well. But when all that is done and NIMBY attitudes are still at play, leaders need to make decisions that support building homes instead of catering to the demands of obstructionists.
That’s because even if a housing project can survive NIMBYism, delays cost the builder more money, and, in turn, that costs the purchaser or the renter more money. These delay tactics, employed in response to NIMBYism by municipalities for decades, and other municipal regulations have added on average over $200,000 to the cost of every residential unit built in some of Canada’s biggest cities. The NIMBYs and municipal restrictions have prevented countless units of housing from being built. To address the housing crisis, NIMBYism has to be fought.
Let’s put this into some context. We need to build 1.5 million homes in the next ten years in Ontario alone. The province of Ontario expects Ottawa alone to build 161,000 new units by 2031. And NIMBYism just stalled 81 of those. How many more units will our leaders allow to fall to the wayside due to NIMBYism?
The answer should be zero. Homelessness is on the rise. Canadians cannot find places to rent, nevermind to buy. Canadians working to build the life of their dreams –a life partner, maybe a couple of kids, a good job, a home to call their own–find themselves locked out of that dream by a system stacked against them. Aging Canadians may be facing problems finding places to downsize into, or a place to live at all. While many factors contribute to Canada’s housing crisis, neighbours and elected officials who prioritize nine parking spots instead of building 81 housing units shouldn’t be one of them.
The enormity of Canada’s housing crisis means this is no time for fence-sitting. We need all government levels working together with communities and the private sector to get more homes built faster and cheaper. This includes dismantling NIMBY culture that infects our housing strategies. Once we do that, we will change lives, stimulate Canada’s growth, and even save lives.
That’s because affordable housing is critical in addressing poverty, and mental health issues, reducing crime and simply giving people hope for the future. No Canadian can afford to wait any longer for action.
Solving these issues demands bold, transformative action and leadership at all levels– from the community, from municipal planning members, all the way to the federal cabinet table. But the silence from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government on NIMBY-based housing decisions has been deafening. That must change too.
Unless our governments become more willing to challenge NIMBYism, there will be millions of Canadians left out in the cold.
(Photo of Parliament Hill by festivio on Pixabay. Photo of Scott Aitchison courtesy of Scott Aitchison.)
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!