Housing and homelessness: we can and must do better

(Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 2018)

Affordable housing. Most agree that everyone should be able to afford to live somewhere safe and affordable. Heck, most would welcome affordability of all ranges in their neighborhood. But what we are not hearing enough of in this campaign is details on how we are going to get there from here. How we are going to ensure that 1000s of new units are built that are both below market rent and deeply affordable to those living in the lowest incomes. 

Last year the Province gave municipalities the power to establish 'inclusionary zoning' policies. If the City passes a strong policy with teeth (and if the current Provincial government doesn't water down the legislation) we could compel developers to include this type of affordability in their new builds. What we need though is strength in that policy. Not just targets but real and meaningful numbers.

I am often asked what else can we do as a municipality? Well we can ensure that there is a healthy supply of purpose-built rentals that open up the market on the lower end of the rental scale. We cannot hope to move the market on affordable housing with a near-zero vacancy rate. I would invite anyone to visit a rooming house and see for yourself the size of units being rented for $600-$900. With more options these rents would be lowered and many of the houses kept to a higher standard.

Lastly, the City can provide land that it already owns close to present and future LRT stations to housing providers to build good mixed-income communities. I successfully directed staff at a recent Council meeting to work across departments to come up with a list of available land and strategies for building affordable housing. The very people who need transit are being pushed out of neighbourhoods where they would be best served by transit. This cannot continue.

Our social housing provider, Ottawa Community Housing, is also in the process of redeveloping it's aged stock with more mixed-income units, also near transit. 

Some of this is happening now. Some, like Inclusionary Zoning, will take a strong Council to push forward on.

And none of it can be achieved without funding from all levels of government, including your municipal government. You have my commitment to ensure we do everything we can to build an inclusive, safe and affordable city for everyone.


Catherine McKenney