Ontario housing policy needs more rental focus, says city councillor

Ottawa Coun. Mathieu Fleury says the Ontario government's housing bill doesn't focus on the low rental vacancy rate enough to address issues in the city.

"What we're seeing is a real focus on home ownership, not really on increasing the capacity around rental, which is where we're seeing a big, big issue," said Fleury, the representative for the urban Rideau-Vanier ward.

Ottawa's rental vacancy rate was 1.6 per cent in 2018, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and has remained consistently low since 2015.

Other cities below Ontario's average of 1.8 per cent include Toronto, Guelph, Peterborough and Kingston.

Ottawa's average rent increased by 5.6 per cent to $1,174 last year.

"I know that amongst a voter group or amongst a demographic, home affordability is a key piece," Fleury said.

"But from a [wider] point of view, until we can create some vacancy in rental then home ownership is not even an option for some."

There are approximately 10,500 families on Ottawa's waitlist for subsidized housing and they may be left waiting for five years.

When the bill was announced May 2, Minister of Municipalities and Housing Steve Clark said the goal is to make more homes available to buy or rent as a way of addressing affordability.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

The bill would allow developers to defer fees for rental and non-profit housing over five years and eliminate a charge for building secondary suites.

Fleury, who is also chair of Ottawa Community Housing, said permits show large purpose-built rental apartments are lagging behind population growth.

Housing and food insecurity

Fleury was among the housing advocates who spoke at an event hosted by the Ottawa Food Bank Wednesday evening.

Michael Maidment, the Ottawa Food Bank's executive director, said his organizations sees the result of the lack of affordable housing.

"One of the biggest factors that people talk about is that we pay so much in rent, so much money is dedicated for rent, that we have to turn to a food bank," Maidment said.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

He said poverty is at the root of both problems, with 60 per cent of food bank clients requiring some form of social assistance.

Question of powers for city

The province's omnibus housing bill covers how developers build and the development charges they pay cities.

It also calls for speedier decisions on development applications and limits the city's ability to force developers to build affordable housing at transit hubs.

Fleury said cities need to be given the powers to address housing.

"The best way to do certainty is to give a big city — a mature city, who delivers programs daily like Ottawa — the tools so we're better equipped, in terms of building code, for resiliency [and] so that we have the revenue sources in terms of development charges so that we can reinvest in our communities."