Op-ed: Federal money for Ottawa housing a good step in strengthening the housing continuum

Jason Burggraaf
Jason Burggraaf is executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.

For anyone in Ottawa affected by Canada’s housing crisis, this past Monday was a big day.

That’s because the federal government announced $176.3 million in funding to help the City of Ottawa fast-track the construction of almost 4,500 housing units over the next three years with further intention to spur the construction of some 32,000 homes over the next decade.

This is exciting, welcome news that will improve the lives of city residents, allowing them more choice and affordability in their housing options, now and in the future. It is also an incredible opportunity to be ambitious about our growth planning here in the National Capital Region to ensure that residents of this city have a reasonable opportunity to live in a home of their own.

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The announcement covers a lot of ground. Among other things, it will support the construction of affordable housing with a focus on high-density areas, such as those around LRT stations. It will support the conversion of empty office space into much-needed housing, while accelerating the sale and preparation of city-owned lands for homes. 

It will also allow for the construction of multiplexes and low-rise apartments across neighbourhoods, removing barriers to allow at least four units per lot city-wide. And it will help streamline the development application and approval process to ensure that we can get shovels in the ground ASAP to build the secure, vibrant communities Ottawa residents want, with access to all the amenities they need.

Up to this point, our city has been nibbling at the edges of our ever-growing housing problem, but this announcement will allow us to take a giant bite out of it, moving forward with the bold action necessary to generate the housing supply we desperately need.

We have to remember that housing is a continuum, and a blockage in one housing segment affects the entire ecosystem, throwing everything into disarray. 

That’s why, in addition to a general lack of affordable housing, there is also currently a lack of rental housing, which prevents people from moving into a space of their own; a lack of entry-level housing, which prevents people from moving out of rental apartments into their first home; and a lack of homes appropriate for retirees, which prevents people from freeing up family-sized homes.

To address this, we must take steps to resolve issues throughout the housing continuum concurrently, or we won’t make real progress – and this funding allows us to do that. It will help us manage the accessibility and affordability of housing for decades to come, ensuring that we’re not saddling our children and grandchildren with problems that we should have been able to solve today.

In a statement on Monday, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe noted that the “vast majority” of the funding will go to specific projects to build more affordable homes – and that’s as it should be. But there are other important considerations that can help speed up and enhance how we do this, including improving the application process for developers both big and small, hiring more staff for planning and legal teams so that we can efficiently process those applications, embracing a new electronic process that reduces unnecessarily complicated manual work and red tape, and completing the update to the zoning bylaw so that up to four units can be built per lot. 

Investing in efficiencies in these areas will ensure that we’re creating a truly 21st-century solution that will have lasting, positive impacts on generations of Ottawa residents.

Jason Burggraaf is executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.

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