by Gina Grosenick, BtB Coordinator

On August 9, 2016, the Centre for Urban Research and Education (CURE) in partnership with the Ontario Ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa (ATEH) hosted a information and consultation session for an inclusionary zoning framework for Ottawa and Ontario.

The provincial Minister of Housing submitted Bill 204, Promoting Affordable Housing Act for first reading into the legislature on May 18 in which Section 4 recommends changes to the planning act that would enable municipalities, like the City of Ottawa, to set policies and bylaws to require development proposals with residential units to include affordable housing units and provide for those units to be maintained as affordable over a period of time.

As it is currently proposed, the legislation is “enabling” not “prescriptive”, which means that it provides for the legal ability for municipalities to adopt the proposed policy, but does not require mandatory adoption.

There has been much anticipation surrounding the legislation since the initial announcement made on March 14.  Summarized, the key elements of the proposed legislation, as currently written, are:

  • “allowing municipalities to determine where and how inclusionary zoning applies through official plan policies and zoning by-laws, subject to the requirements of the proposed legislation and potential regulations
  • prohibiting appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board from municipal inclusionary zoning official plan policies and zoning by-laws, except appeals made by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
  • not authorizing municipalities to accept money in lieu of inclusionary zoning units or allow the units to be built on off-site lands
  • requiring municipalities to establish a procedure for ensuring that inclusionary zoning units remain affordable over time
  • requiring owners of inclusionary zoning units to enter into agreements with the municipality, which may be registered against the land and can be enforced against subsequent owners to keep the unit affordable
  • restricting municipalities from using section 37 (density bonusing) in addition to inclusionary zoning requirements, except in circumstances outlined by regulations” (Source: mah.gov.on.ca/Page14875.aspx)  

The province has sought to balance the opportunity to introduce a measure that could meaningfully support municipal affordable housing development with parameters that builders can work within and still make development viable. It is important to remember that this legislation is a not meant to be a singular solution to the affordable housing crisis but one tool that, used with other programs and processes, can help to address the affordable housing crisis in many of our cities.

In Ottawa, some initial work has been undertaken by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa to initiate a dialogue with builders on what a local inclusionary zoning bylaw might look like.  Some key discussion points include:

  • what range of the affordable housing spectrum is the bylaw seeking to impact?
  • what are the triggering conditions that require inclusionary zoning?
  • what should the inclusion rate of affordable housing development be?
  • should there be different rates for different zones or development areas?
  • what defines “affordability”?
  • what offsetting concessions can be made available to make development more viable?
  • how does this tool align with and support existing affordable housing programs in the city?

Ottawa stakeholders will have some time to continue this discussion and consider these questions.  Public comments and feedback on the provincial bill is due by August 16.  A consultation guide with specific discussion questions is available online at the Ministries’ websites. The province will present the bill for second reading in the fall at which time it will be forwarded to committee for review and consideration of feedback into the winter, returning for debate and final approval in the spring, allowing for by-law adoption by municipalities in the summer of 2017.

Its important that all stakeholders be part of this discussion.  Share your thoughts with the province,  your community, your city councillor, and us. Reach out to others in the affordable housing and development communities to educate them on and discuss the issue.  Lets make sure that this opportunity is maximized so that we forge new and lasting partnerships for affordable housing development in Ottawa, working together to make a lasting impact in our community.