Affordable Housing

Guelph has a housing affordability problem. Recently, I was walking downtown, and I saw this:

For prices that start in the high 600s, those better be some really nice townhomes. But, regardless of how nice they are, they're just emblematic of how ludicrously high housing prices in this city have become. I've heard from people whose houses have gone up so much in value that they wouldn't be able to afford to buy them today; and these are people who make a good living. If you're someone who's just scraping by, it's much, much worse.

The rental market in Ward 5 is under particularly high pressure due to the presence of the University. We have a large population of renters, and we always will since the student population undergoes constant turnover. Add those to the normal number of people who need an inexpensive place to live, and we are stretched to the limit. If the city can't encourage the development of more affordable housing, we're going to wind up in a situation where more and more of what used to be single-family homes now house four (or more) adults, two or three of whom might have their own cars, which stretches our infrastructure and exacerbates our parking problems.

The city council recently approved new affordable housing targets for Guelph, and they just don't make any sense. Under the new guidelines 30% of new construction should be affordable units. That sounds like a lot, until you see the breakdown. Of that 30%, fully 25% are set to be owned units, which to me makes absolutely no sense. If you're struggling to pay the rent, there's no way you can save a down payment. Odds are that most of that 25% would be snatched up by out-of-town speculators and rented for exorbitant rates, because there's no mechanism by which the city can ensure that the unit is sold to someone of a certain income level. You can't say to a developer "Make sure that if someone offers you 10% above your asking price, you don't take it." We need affordable rental units, too, and lots of them.

Allowing construction of a monstrous 500-unit building isn't the right move either, though. We can't simply tuck people with lower incomes off in a corner and hope they disappear. What I want is for the city to require that a minimum of 20% of units in every development be affordable units. If someone's building 40 $600,000 units, then they have to build 10 $200,000 units right alongside them. More importantly, if a building's going to have 80 units that rent for $2000/month, then it needs to have 20 that rent for $900. Society works best when people of all income levels live side-by-side.