Attainable Housing Strategy

Wellington County’s Attainable Housing Shortage

The identification of the attainable housing crisis in the County was realized through a series of discussions between the Wellington County Economic Development Division and the local business community. The County’s labour force is experiencing difficulty attaining housing at a price that allows them to pay rents or mortgages while earning an income around the County’s median income level. Market housing, which in the County means homes with a value no less than $400,000, is not within their affordability range. The average cost of housing in Wellington County is $453,244, which in effect requires individuals and families to earn at least $110,855 per year to purchase a home without a high risk of defaulting on a mortgage loan [The Corporation of the County of Wellington, 2019].

Currently there is an insufficient quantity of market housing being constructed that is financially feasible. This is due to several factors, including but not limited to the availability of financing, interest rate levels, cost of construction, building materials and land values. These factors have contributed to the recent surge of housing prices in the County.

Economic pressure, based on the County’s geographic location, is another factor which has influenced the housing market. The County of Wellington is located in close proximity to the City of Guelph, Waterloo Region, and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area [GTHA]. According to a Report from Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. [2016], the southern/central municipalities in the County are anticipated to attract new residential development activity over the long term as a result of their proximity to these growing employment markets. In addition to attracting residential activity from a labour force located outside of the County, this pressure will impact demand with respect to building typology.

The annual housingforecast for the County between 2015 to 2040 anticipates that the majority of new housing growth, about 75%, is anticipated to be of a low-rise housing form [Watson & Associates Economists Ltd., 2016]. This is an issue as low-rise housing, which is the dominant housing form in the County, is not attainable.

What is Attainable Housing for Wellington County?

A specific definition of what attainable housing means for Wellington County does not exist. In the absence of a definition, the use of this term is meant to capture the type of rental or ownership units which the County’s workforce is trying to obtain. This means market housing of various built forms and densities, which is attainable for the purchaser and satisfies their needs. This Report does not contemplate opportunities to provide for social housing, which is housing that is subsidized by the government.

Please see below the consultant's executive summary.

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Executive Summary

The Problem

The purpose of this Attainable Housing Strategy ["Report"] is to provide recommendations to assist the County of Wellington ["The County"] with its attainable housing shortage. The scale of this issue is significant, especially for the County’s workforce. The lack of attainable housing is making it difficult for local employers to attract and retain workers, with some employers incurring costs in order to house or transport their workers. This problem is further influenced by the County’s geographic location, which is in close proximity to major economic centres in the City of Guelph, Waterloo Region and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area [GTHA]. It is anticipated that this economic pressure will attract residential activity from outside the County, increasing the development of low-rise housing forms, which are not attainable.

The dominant form of housing in the County is single detached dwellings which is a type of housing that is no longer affordable for moderate income households. Current data regarding housing supply indicates that the total number of newly constructed units is not on the rise, while housing prices are increasing. In addition, the rental market is experiencing similar challenges with respect to attainability. The County’s vacancy rate of 1% is also making acquiring rental housing difficult.

This Report was initiated from a need to develop recommendations to address the shortage of attainable housing for the County’s workforce but has expanded in scope to focus more broadly on establishing strategies appropriate for all low and moderate-income households across the County. The term attainable, for the purposes of this Report, refers to housing provided for purchase or for rent and subject to public intervention at the time of purchase or construction. Public Intervention takes many forms and can include:

  • Deletion of exclusionary policies from the Official Plan to enable a range of housing types.
  • Inserting permissive policies in the Official Plan to require range of market housing types in specific locations.
  • Provide incentives such as eliminate or diminish development charges, education levies, parkland dedication levies, building permit fees, planning application fees and realty taxes.
  • Apply for Federal and Provincial housing grants or loans to assist with purchase and construction of attainable housing and/or land acquisition.
  • The County may provide grants or loans to enable land acquisition or assist in dwelling purchase.
  • The County may provide covenants to assist in land acquisition, dwelling purchase, and/or construction financing.
  • The County may waive property taxes for a specified period.
The Approach

The solution requires the implementation of various strategies, not only financial tools but County initiatives and land use planning mechanisms to increase the production of attainable housing units which meet the needs of different households. Land use planning regulations which lack flexibility can play a key role in inhibiting the creation of lower-cost housing by the private sector. To establish a list of action-oriented recommendations, a policy analysis and public consultation process were undertaken.

A Pilot Project considering the option of a Community Land Trust [CLT] and an Attainable Housing Options Portfolio focused on built form and construction methods, accompany the Report as appendices.

Policy Analysis

Provincial policy plays a role in the delivery of attainable housing as it creates a framework for managing growth and provides policy direction to guide land development. As part of this Report, the Growth Plan [2019] and the Province’s Housing Supply Action Plan [2019] were reviewed. Through this review, it was uncovered that recent changes being implemented by the
Province’s Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 [Bill 108] are aimed at increasing housing affordability. Bill 108 introduces beneficial amendments related to second units such as allowing two second units on one property, by permitting two residential units in a main residence [single detached, semi-detached or rowhouse] and one in an ancillary structure.

At the County level, an analysis of the County’s Official Plan was conducted to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the existing policy framework. The Report also reviewed and compared the County’s policies to those of Dufferin and Perth County, which are both counties of a similar population size and character.

The intention of this review was to assess differences in how each County addresses housing supply and affordability from a policy perspective. This review was also helpful for comparing and understanding potential implementation policies which can be put in place to encourage the
development of attainable units.

Community Engagement Strategy
The Community Engagement Strategy consisted of a detailed process to consult with the public through key stakeholder interviews and a public survey. Questions were askedto identify publicperceptions on the challenges associated with creating attainable housing and to discuss factors related to development such as built form, cost and location. The key “stakeholders” were selected from a broad list of individuals, provided by County Staff, that hold in-depth knowledge of issues and opportunities related to housing and community development in the County. The public survey questions differed from those asked of key stakeholders and focused on understanding the public’s opinion on existing housing issues and needs.
Findings

The policy analysis indicated that the housing and affordability policies in the County’s Official Plan are adequate but from an implementation perspective, the Official Plan lacks policies to incentivize the development of attainable housing. Density bonusing is one tool, present in both the Dufferin and Perth Official Plans, which the County does not include. This land use planning tool would allow the County to increase attainable housing units as a community benefit in exchange for greater heights and densities for new developments.

The County Official Plan also includes  language  which  places  emphasis on the dominance of single detached dwellings as a primary built form expected to continue. This language is problematic as it is counter-intuitive to diversifying the built form of the existing housing stock, which is critical to improving housing affordability.

Through the simulated Community Land Trust [CLT] Pilot Project, particularly the cost analysis component, it was determined that public intervention by way of incentives are mandatory to provide housing at a price substantially lower than current market prices.

The Community Engagement Strategy was informative for revealing what the public believes are some of the key challenges associated with developing attainable housing units. Stakeholders responses suggested that some of the leading reasons are unsecure/lengthy development approval processes and property limitations. The availability of serviced land is another road block for inhibiting the development of attainable housing.

Recommendations

There is no one recommendation which will remedy the County’s attainable housingshortage. Acomprehensive approachincorporating differenttypesof strategies is needed. This Report establishedthree types of recommendations categorized as: policy-based recommendations, financial incentives and County action-oriented initiatives. The timing for implementation varies per recommendation, with the policy-based recommendations being more long-term in nature. The County will be undertaking a review of their Official Plan through a Municipal Comprehensive Review [MCR] process in the near future. The timing of this Report aligns well with the County’s upcoming MCR process as it provides an opportunity for the County to receive comments on its Official Plan policies and consider potential changes to be made to support the development of attainable housing.

The implementation and success of these  recommendations  relies  on  the support of multiple parties including County Staff and Council, key stakeholders, the development industry and the willingness of the community to embrace change. Outlined below are the recommendations suggested for the County to consider in order to increase their attainable housing supply.

Policy Based Recommendations
  1. The Establishment of an Attainable Housing Growth Target.
  2. Density bonusing.
  3. Streamlining of the planning approvals process [i.e. implementing a Development Permit System].
  4. Strengthening and updating the Official Plan policies regarding second units.
  5. Amending the Official Plan’s existing Community Improvement Planning policies.
  6. Amending policies in the Official Plan to support a greater diversity of building typologies and construction methods [such as modular].
  7. Conducting a review of the local Zoning By-laws to reduce regulatory barriers such as minimum lot size requirements, minimum setback requirements and parking requirements. A reduction in the amount of land required for construction greatly lowers the cost of land acquisition and housing construction.
  8. The use of Secondary Planning to address local issues.
 Financial Incentives
 1.    Development Charge reductions or exemptions.
2.    A reduction in Parkland Dedication requirements.
3.    Planning Application and Building Permit fee reductions and/or
exemptions.
 County Action Oriented Initiatives
  1. Encouraging the creation of a Community Land Trust [CLT].
  2. Incorporating discussions surrounding attainable housing development in Pre-Application Consultation Meetings with builders/developers.
  3. Passing Demolition Control By-laws to assist in the preservation of rental units.
  4. Locating existing publicly held sites such as school sites or underutilized hotels/motel sites which would be appropriate to convert for rental units.
  5. Developing a Public-Private Partnerships Task Force and obtain CMHC. funding to undertake detailed research about innovative building forms and construction methods. The Task Force would also be responsible for locating areas in the County to support this type of innovative housing.
  6. The establishment of Communal Workforce Housing as a short-term strategy.
  7. Conducting an analysis of servicing availability in the County, both existing and future capacity, and developing a database to compile this data.
 Next Steps
It is recommended that the Economic Development Department  be  tasked to develop a Working Group to review and evaluate the various recommendations presented in this Report. Our impression is that a Working Group of Economic Development staff, Planning staff and with participation from members of the Wellington County Municipal Economic Development Group would be appropriate.

© 2019 County of Wellington, 74 Woolwich St. Guelph, Ontario N1H 3T9, T 519.837.2600, TF 1.800.663.0750, F 519.837.1909