I will return to Vienna to look at its affordable housing model. First, I have to address some of the issues that make solving the affordability crisis complex. For many years, multiple levels of government focused on “capacity to buy”. Think of the programs:
All of these initiatives sell the dream of home ownership and drive demand. So, prices rose and previously contented renters started to feel like they were missing out. Consequently, even more demand as consumers clamour to get on to the property ladder or worry about getting priced out of the market.
All the while governments have effectively acted to constrain supply. In Toronto, it can take eight to ten years after raw land acquisition for the first shovel of dirt to be turned on a new development. This may be an exceptionally long wait period, but five or six year delays are commonplace across Canada. Interest costs, real estate taxes, planning professionals’ fees, and hours and hours spent with civil servants and politicians accumulate. Long waits mean higher land costs before that first turn of the dirt.
Then, there is so much resistance to increasing urban density. Many of the resistors fancy themselves as environmentalists. Delusional! Cities continue to grow! If we don’t densify, there is only one alternative. More urban sprawl that chews up agricultural land, forests, and parkland. Development pushes out beyond available public transport. So, more cars on the road creating more air pollution. Now, not all density has to be in high rise buildings. Consider the four to six storey buildings in dense neighbourhoods in Paris, London, Vienna and other European cities. Think of the density achieved with three storey buildings in Montreal’s inner city neighbourhoods such as Plateau Mont-Royal and Villeray.
Toronto has zoned almost seventy percent of its territory for single-family, detached housing. Similar percentages prevail across North American cities. As already noted above, single-family zoning chews up acres of forest and agricultural land. It restricts the amount of land available for parks and recreational areas. And, it curtails the development of much needed housing. According to relatively recent Statistics Canada data, there are 564,000 detached single-family homes on the island of Montreal. If only 25% of homeowners chose to densify their lots by one additional unit over the next ten years, this would add 116,000 homes to existing inventory.
Acceptance and implementation of new building technology, techniques, and materials takes time. Why? Trade union resistance, man-power retraining, building code revisions, and vested-interest “no change” industry lobbying all require attention. Then maybe we will see:
Poor urban planning and NIMBYs deserve their own post. Delivery – sometime over the next few weeks. I can’t spend too much time all at once on these topics – bad for my blood pressure. And, I promise, I will return to Vienna.
Before I fall completely into the trap of opposition politics, I have decided to take a break from never-ending criticism and to start suggesting solutions to the affordable housing conundrum. Do I have a plan? No, more a collection of ideas To start with, I think there are three key issues: Home ownership is not […]
I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]
Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]
We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie and Norry Wilson. So, we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]
Vienna on top again. This week both Monocle Magazine and The Economist unveiled their quality of life / most liveable city indexes. There are differences in the way each publication sets its index. So it is even more impressive that once again, Vienna tops both lists. I am a bit lazy today so rather than […]
Many Viennese went from hot bedding to superblocks overnight. Could they even imagine an apartment complex 1000 metres long built along two streets with even more massive landscaped courtyards? Could they conceive of 1400 apartment units built to house 5000 people on 56,000 square metres or 38 acres of land. Or a vertical build-out that […]