September - October 2024


We need a wartime approach to the housing crisis

There’s no way to sugarcoat it – Canada is in a housing crisis.

Homeownership was part of the Canadian dream, but that dream is becoming further out of reach for most Canadians. A recent Toronto Star story reported Stats Canada data that showed the percentage of people in Canada who own homes dropped from 69 percent in 2011 to 66.5 percent in 2021. In the same story, Paul Kershaw, a professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said that the housing crisis is even worse for younger Canadians. According to Kershaw, home ownership for people younger than 35 dropped 12 percent between 1977 and 2019.

Renters are affected by the housing crisis, too. According to a story in The Record, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Waterloo Region peaked at $2,000 in July 2023. Young professionals, students, and families are struggling to find a place to call home that doesn’t break their budgets and gives them a chance to save towards home ownership.

The housing crisis is happening at the worst possible moment for our community in Waterloo Region. We need people. With an expected population of 1,000,000 by 2050—some say even sooner than that—we need nurses, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, tradespeople, and other professionals to serve our growing population.

But we can’t attract them to live and work in Waterloo Region without affordable and attainable housing.

The provincial government passed the More Homes, Built Faster Act tabled last year with a mandate of building 1.5 million new homes in Ontario by 2031. That number includes 70,000 new homes in Waterloo Region. We would need nearly 9,000 new homes built annually through 2031 to meet that milestone. As of September, there have only been 1,717 new starts in Waterloo Region.

The Grand Valley Construction Association has worked to educate local government, education, and business leaders on this crisis and what we need to do to meet tomorrow’s housing demands. In an interview with the CBC, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Ontario needs 72,000 new workers by 2027 to compensate for the gap created by skilled tradespeople retiring. That’s not to mention the additional skilled tradespeople we need to build housing, industrial, and commercial projects across Waterloo Region.

There may be a gap in the workforce needed, but thankfully, Waterloo Region is rich with two incredible resources—people willing to do things differently and the land needed to build homes for the over 500,000 new people who will call Waterloo Region home by 2050.

In July, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo announced BUILD NOW: Waterloo Region. Working with local partners, including the Grand Valley Construction Association and a consortium of local developers. BUILD NOW: Waterloo Region plans to build 7,000 new homes and 3,000 new rental units in seven years.

The BUILD NOW: Waterloo Region project will see developers building four to six-storey housing on unused parcels across Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo. Instead of the standard for-profit model, developers will take an administrative fee. Once built, these missing middle homes will be made available for half the market price—and they’ll stay affordable using the same model as other Habitat for Humanity projects.

This is an “all hands on deck” approach where everyone is sacrificing a little to make significant progress on building affordable and attainable homes in Waterloo Region.

It’s the kind of bold plan the world expects from Waterloo Region. It’s a wartime plan—and a war is what we’re facing. This is a war against time to ensure our businesses have the talent they need to grow.

Our local economy—and Canada’s economy—depends on the success of Waterloo Region’s manufacturing, agriculture, and technology industries. That success depends on having housing for everyone, from baristas to brain surgeons.

This plan will work because not only do we have the people to make it work—we have the land to make it work. Mark Twain once said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about where to build. We must think very differently about what we do with land and how we balance current needs with future needs while not being handcuffed by past practices.

All underutilized land close to public transit, shopping, and other amenities perfect for BUILD NOW: Waterloo Region developments must be tabled as pieces of the puzzle.

To make this work, we need every local partner to come to the table. We have the developers, we have the land, we have the plan. Every day of delay is another day someone chooses another community to call home. It’s talent lost. Talent that we need to build a thriving Waterloo Region for 2050 and beyond.

Let’s not lose this war.

September – October 2023
Article Author: Jeff Maclntyre


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