Mark Sutcliffe is promising to pave the way for 100,000 homes to be built in Ottawa in the next decade, including 1,000 community housing units every year, if elected mayor on Oct. 24.
The high-profile candidate wants to provide incentives to build more affordable housing units through a combination of waiving of fees and, in some circumstances, height restrictions.
And he wants to streamline the development process to make it easier to build more homes, faster in order to keep up with Ottawa's population growth.
Standing in front of the Bayview LRT station, where the city owns several hectares of land, Sutcliffe says the city has to move on plans to build more housing on its own property — even over rail lines.
"All around us there's empty land and the city owns 21 acres of this land," he said.
"It's got a value of approximately $100 million … and it's sitting empty. And we've been talking for 20 years about building here, and I want to finally get it done."
If elected, Sutcliffe promises to bring together Ottawa Community Housing, not-for-profit housing providers, homebuilders, trades and unions, planners, university and citizens groups and government representatives to come up with a strategic plan "to break down the barriers to getting the housing we need to be built with no expansion of the urban boundary."
Waiving, reducing fees
A key part of Sutcliffe's housing platform is reducing or eliminating development charges — money charged to new builds to pay for things like pipes, transit and community centres — and other city fees. for residential housing projects where at least 20 per cent of the units are affordable. That would include any office buildings that are converted to residential.
He would allow "limited height exemptions" in some cases and eliminate application fees for projects with 40 per cent affordable housing units.
Sutcliffe's plan didn't expand on what "affordable" means — whether it'd be set at 80 per cent of market rates or 60 per cent,for example.
He also didn't have a estimate on how much waiving fees would cost, although he said he would release his financial plan later in the campaign. He pointed out that there's been a moratorium on development charges for downtown projects in the past, and that it spurred more building. And he argued that inside the Greenbelt, where he envisions most (but not all) of the city's intensification will take place, there's isn't as big a need to fund additional amenities.
"In the big picture, I think we can balance [waiving the fees] as part of a broader strategy of how we finance the city's development and growth over the next few years," he said.
Asked earlier this week if they support waiving development charges, mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney said they do, but it should be done "carefully" not to overburden the existing taxpayers to cover the fees.
Like many other mayoral candidates, Sutcliffe wants to cut "red tape" to speed up the approval process to get homes built, and would set up a "one-stop shop" for approving new housing and rental properties. And like other candidates, there are few details available right now about how exactly this would be accomplished.
Sutcliffe's plan also calls for the director of housing to report to the city manager, instead of the general manager of planning. And he wants to increase the tax rate for property owners inside the Greenbelt whose development applications are approved, but nothing has been built.
And he's also promised to pre-approve zoning for intensification in areas like downtown core, along LRT and at stations. (The city is already undertaking a process to write a new comprehensive zoning bylaw to match the new official plan which should see zoning set for most parcels of land in the city.)
Asked about whether he'd be in favour of getting rid of so-called exclusive R1 zoning — which bans anything other than a single family home to be built on a property — Sutcliffe said he's "not in favour of eliminating R1 right across the board."
To address homelessness, Sutcliffe says he'd "adopt a policy to offer housing and supportive services as a first step, work to increase transitional housing and "move away" from using shelters and motels.
Sutcliffe told CBC he respects McKenney's "ambition and passion on the issue of homelessness" — McKenney is promising to end chronic homelessness within four years — but he believes the way forward is to build more affordable units, and increase social supports.
And finally, for seniors, Sutcliffe promises to expand an existing city program that allows low-income seniors to defer paying some of their property taxes. He would also lobby other levels of government for programs to allow seniors to modify their homes.