I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 30 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room, as well as virtually. I would ask that all members attending in person respect the pandemic protocols that are in place.
Additionally, to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. For those participating by video conference, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike—
Before the interruption, I was going to advise that you have the option to speak in the official language of your choice. If there's an issue with translation, please get my attention and we'll suspend while it's being corrected.
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Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee will resume its study of the housing accelerator fund.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to begin our discussion with five minutes of opening remarks, followed by questions.
We have Cathy Heron, president of Alberta Municipalities. We also have Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development, and Edward John, director of housing services at the City of Hamilton. They will both be giving statements, because they were both to appear at two different times on two different issues, but they're both appearing today. From the Regroupement des offices d’habitation du Québec, we have Madame Demers, general director, and Coralie Le Roux, senior adviser.
We will start with the Alberta Municipalities for five minutes. Madam Heron, you have the floor.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me.
My name is Cathy Heron, and I am the president of Alberta Municipalities, as well as the mayor of the city of St. Albert. We're about 70,000 people, just north of Edmonton.
Affordable housing is obviously a vital issue for municipalities, not just in Alberta but everywhere. I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to share Alberta's municipal perspective as you consider options for the design and rollout of the housing accelerator fund.
Alberta Municipalities sincerely appreciates the Government of Canada's work over the past few years on the housing file, because, as municipalities, we know that adequate housing is essential to our citizens' health, safety, dignity and inclusion and, honestly, to their ability to contribute to the fabric of our communities. We strongly support the right to housing enshrined in the National Housing Strategy Act, and we applaud the federal government's significant investment to make this right a reality.
Municipalities are at the forefront of dealing with social and economic disorder that arises from homelessness and insecure or inappropriate housing. As a result, although housing is a provincial responsibility, when provincial policies and programs fail to resolve local housing issues, municipalities must do what they can to support their community and its well-being.
Alberta is challenged by a high demand for and a low supply of affordable housing, particularly deep subsidy housing. Using the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definitions, nearly 500,000 Albertans are living in unaffordable housing, and about 164,000 households are in core housing need. Only 57,000 households currently live in provincially supported affordable housing, and over 24,000 households are on provincial affordable housing wait-lists. This means that 10% of Albertan households are in core housing need, but only 4% are receiving provincial assistance.
Last year, the Government of Alberta announced a provincial housing strategy that aims to assist up to 25,000 more households in the next 10 years. This will be accomplished by delivering 13,000 additional affordable housing units and providing rental assistance for about 12,000 more households.
While this represents a 44% increase in the number of households supported by the province, it still leaves over 83,000 households in core housing need. Furthermore, the province's capital plan shows investments in affordable housing decreasing by 27% over the next two years, which leaves us wondering how it can achieve the goal of developing 13,000 new units without the appropriate capital investment. Accordingly, the housing accelerator fund represents a tremendous opportunity for Alberta municipalities to help address the urgent need.
Alberta Municipalities believes that flexibility is the key to making this fund as effective as possible. Municipalities are highly diverse in terms of their local housing markets, their local housing needs and their capacity to adjust these needs. Local housing needs run across the affordable housing spectrum, from deep subsidy, permanent supportive housing for people transitioning out of homelessness, to the near-market housing that makes life more affordable for middle-class families.
My first ask is that the housing accelerator fund be as flexible as possible to support municipalities in adjusting their own unique housing needs and priorities. We are the experts in local land use planning and understand the housing needs of our communities as well as the barriers to those housing developments. Granting municipalities the flexibility to spend funds on local priorities will ensure that the goal of the housing accelerator fund can be achieved.
For example, several Alberta municipalities have existing programs designed to increase density and encourage housing development. For these municipalities the housing accelerator fund should permit investment in those existing programs. This will allow municipalities to speed up housing approvals and increase housing supply.
My second ask is that grants from the housing accelerator fund include sufficient funding to allow for the construction of energy-efficient homes and net-zero homes, because the ongoing maintenance and expenses of a house also contribute to its affordability. Having a common net-zero energy and climate-ready standard for all homes funded through this program will enable builders to learn and adopt the new practices needed to meet the future building code requirements designed to help address climate change.
In closing, I would like to thank you once again for the opportunity to present and for your efforts to truly collaborate with municipalities in designing this important program. I can now take any questions.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak to the committee today.
My name is Jason Thorne and I'm the general manager of planning and economic development at the City of Hamilton.
In this role I lead a department that's responsible for all aspects of planning approvals, as well as economic development, administering the city's development incentive programs, and managing the city's real estate portfolio. Increasing annual housing production, addressing affordability, ensuring timely development approvals and building complete livable sustainable communities are all goals that my council has given to me and to my department.
Hopefully some of our experience will be of value to this committee.
I'm going to outline this morning five comments that I hope you will consider as you develop this important program.
First and foremost, I would urge you to be clear in the goals that you're hoping to achieve. In my view, just building more of the same should not be that goal. I do agree with the urgency of increasing overall housing supply, but that alone will not address affordability, and that alone will not ensure that we achieve livable and sustainable communities. It's important not to lose sight of other key policy goals. It's important to increase housing supply in a manner that also meets the climate crisis and does not incentivize energy-inefficient housing or low-density housing in far-flung, car-dependent locations.
It's also important to increase housing supply in a manner that actually targets affordability.
Secondly, I'll talk about development approvals. Much can be, should be, and is being done to streamline the development approvals process, but I caution you to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that widespread deregulation will somehow unlock housing supply. Much of the planning approvals process is in place to catch and correct issues with development that, if not caught, could have significant negative impacts.
I can speak to you from the front lines of the planning approvals process, and I can tell you that significant public interest is served in making sure that new development goes through a fulsome review. Even when done expeditiously, faster approvals do not necessarily equal new construction, because municipalities are not able to ensure that approved development actually happens.
In Hamilton, we've already undertaken Lean Six Sigma reviews of our processes, shifted to digital portals for building permit submissions, pre-zoned most of our city and granted “as of right” permissions for secondary dwelling units like basement apartments and laneway housing. We are currently preparing zoning changes to permit the conversion of existing homes into duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.
That said, there are ways the housing accelerator program could help. It could include funding to enable municipal staff to carry out development reviews; support for digital application platforms, municipal infrastructure and growth modelling; and efforts to expand the labour pool of professionals such as planners and engineers, who are in desperately short supply right now.
My third comment for you relates to an area that I would recommend be a central plank of the housing accelerator program, and that's land and property acquisition. That means funding to support municipalities and non-profit housing providers in acquiring and assembling vacant or underutilized lands, de-risking them, and then getting them onto the market as affordable and mixed-market affordable housing. That also means funding to acquire existing market affordable rental units to protect our existing below-market housing supply.
Fourth, the program could add significant value by partnering with local municipalities in targeted development incentive programs. In Hamilton, we have 20 years of experience and success with using targeted incentive programs to bring housing to market, but right now we're doing it entirely on our own. We offer zero-interest loans, tax grants and development charge exemptions to incentivize development in market-challenged areas, grant programs to clean up brownfields, fee incentives to create laneway homes and basement apartments, and grants for the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. These programs have been hugely successfully in catalyzing development in our city, but all of them are funded solely by the municipality.
I'll end with a fifth and final comment, and that is not to tie the program, or the federal funding, to arbitrary unit production goals. I would caution you to think carefully about going down a path of what I have heard referred to as “dollars for doors”, and I say this for a number of reasons.
Pure quantity of units is not the only goal. These units must meet the needs of the market. They must provide housing for a mix of incomes, a mix of tenures and a mix of family types and household sizes. They need to be designed and located in a manner that meets those other critical policy goals, like climate change.
Making funding dependent on delivering units could give developers significant leverage over municipalities in the approvals process. This could lead to pressure on municipalities to compromise important matters of public interest, such as environmental protections, in order to get builders to build so that municipalities can access federal funds. A dollars for doors approach would put municipalities in an untenable situation with respect to the public that we serve. Residents would be looking to the municipality to make sound, principled, planning decisions while at the same time knowing that we would, in effect, be getting paid to say yes.
I leave those five comments with you for your consideration, and I'd be happy to take questions at the appropriate time.
Thank you, and good morning. My name is Edward John. I am the director of housing services for the City of Hamilton, Ontario. I wish to thank you for this opportunity and look forward to continued engagement.
As part of my duties, I am responsible for the housing system and am service manager of the social and community housing portfolio. This includes oversight of the access to housing wait-list, application of provincial and federal funding, and the housing programs and systems that include our shelter and residential care facilities.
I have comprehensive experience with several funding programs, both federally and provincially, including but not limited to the rapid housing initiative, coinvestment, HPP, COCHI and OPHI.
During and following the pandemic, the housing system has witnessed numerous pressures and challenges and has shone a light on the inequity and housing gaps that face the most vulnerable of our community. Support and funding directed to address this increasingly disproportionate impact remain my focus. I am hoping my comments today and my experience can assist in the creation and implementation of this newly developing fund.
With regard to the housing accelerator fund priorities, as with many funding envelopes, I would strongly recommend that the program consider the following aspects.
Flexibility: As a federal program, the program should be allowed to address local priorities and challenges with respect to the market conditions and housing needs of the particular city. This is important. Hamilton still struggles to provide rental housing, with much of our stock built in the sixties and seventies and, as such, at the end of its life cycle and in need of capital repair. Protecting both the quality and the affordability of these units while providing new ones is a key priority for Hamilton.
Predictability: Clearly the intent is for an acceleration of supply and a rapid delivery of units. Therefore, implementation will need to be simple and predictable to ensure that the goal is met locally. Complex legal agreements and program requirements will hinder the speed and efficiency of delivery.
Stackability: With supply being the focus, one can expect per-unit funds to be significantly less than those associated with other funding approaches, such as the RHI. It would therefore be important to contemplate the ability for local municipalities to be in a position to stack programs in order for local priorities and the depth of affordability to be maximized.
Definitions: Careful consideration of what is to be achieved will be a component of how the program defines outcomes such as affordability. Hamilton is in critical need of deep affordability and increased rental tenure. A program that supports and does not limit utilizing these funds for this purpose would be a huge advantage. In terms of where the City of Hamilton could invest such funding, I offer the following. From a policy perspective, updating and informing planning and housing tools to increase and address local need includes supporting housing needs assessments and supporting the right of supply to meet other priorities, such as affordability and climate change.
Land and infrastructure: Land acquisition and land assembly could unlock a number of sites to quickly allow for development and redevelopment. This could also include the ability to address infrastructure limitations that have otherwise constrained development. Hamilton has a number of areas with challenges, including fragmented lot fabric and contamination, that such a fund could overcome. It could liberate lands in key areas close to transit and supportive infrastructure.
In terms of incentives, targeted incentives to overcome local supply gaps in both our housing and affordable housing unit numbers would allow Hamilton to clearly articulate and support the development of the right size, location and cost.
With respect to our housing wait-list, currently supply—which in Hamilton has seen year-over-year growth—has not yet had an impact on reducing our growing access to housing wait-list numbers. Therefore, investments in supply that meaningfully address this growing pressure would result in significant improvements in the household sustainability of families.
Finally, concerning a phased approach, while the intent is to accelerate new supply, a phased approach that allows for existing rental units that are in danger of losing their affordability as a result of investments such as REITs, or as a result of becoming unsafe to live in as they near the end of their life cycle, could see immediate and cost-effective protection and support for the growth in affordable rentals within the initial phase of the fund. Concurrently, new construction could be initiated, as we have seen more recently with supply chain issues, and be delivered in future years in phases of the funding.
In terms of areas of risk and opportunity, I will draw attention to the market distortion. Any program would need to understand and avoid market distortion. Not all supply is good supply, and oversupply of units that do not meet local objectives could have a destabilizing impact.
Targeting: The fund would need to be designed to ensure that it did not reward development that was to occur irrespective of the funding.
In terms of capacity building, a program that improves the capacity of trades and non-profits could result in a sustainable approach to community building, one that could create a long-lasting legacy of supply that goes far beyond the initial investment.
In summary, you should ensure that the program has the flexibility to address local priorities, is simple and predictable and, most importantly, creates a strong, robust platform to address housing gaps and pressures in a meaningful manner.
Thank you. I'll be happy to answer questions at the appropriate time.
Thank you very much.
I would like to thank my colleague, Ms. Coralie Le Roux, who is with me today.
It is a first for us to appear before the committee. We thank you for having us here today.
The Regroupement des offices d'habitation du Québec, or ROHQ, is a non-profit organization founded in 1972 that represents the 158 housing authorities throughout Quebec. The network of authorities includes more than 1,600 directors and 2,000 employees.
In total, Quebec's housing authorities are responsible for more than 52% of community and affordable social housing. They help more than 150,000 low- and moderate-income citizens. As agents and partners of the Société d'habitation du Québec, the authorities represent the municipalities responsible for some 106,000 housing units, including 65,000 low-income housing units and 41,000 social housing units under programs such as the Programme d'habitation abordable Québec and AccèsLogis, to name a few.
The ROHQ has been a major player in social housing in Quebec for 50 years, and it is in this capacity that we are submitting our comments and recommendations to you today. Operating in a business environment governed by standards, laws and regulations, and being public in nature, housing authorities are subject to strict management and accountability rules. The housing services offered to communities are therefore governed by rules that are based on the principles of transparency and compliance with laws, regulations and standards. Each housing authority operates under the guidance of a board of directors, which includes municipal and government appointees. Their governance is strong and rigorous.
Housing authorities actively contribute to economic and social development. As such, we are submitting comments today for a sustainable vision that will respond to today's major challenges in housing renovation and construction. Housing authorities are able to add value by providing a collaborative and integrated approach to their communities, which is notably based on accountability.
We believe that Quebec has a solution to the pressing needs of households. The very low vacancy rate, the rising cost of rent, and the number of households in core housing need—nearly 350,000 Quebec households, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data—demand solutions. We feel that identifying federally owned buildings would be an appropriate approach to locating and targeting opportunities for the conversion and construction of social and affordable housing likely to maintain the existing social safety net.
The pandemic has changed the world of work in many ways, but it has also highlighted the importance of housing, and more specifically, social and affordable housing. Identifying federal properties in Quebec and transforming them into social and affordable housing would have the advantage of responding quickly and effectively not only to the critical needs of low-income households, but also to middle-class households, who are increasingly affected by the housing shortage.
Where the conditions for the disposal of federal properties are favourable, they encourage the acquisition of these buildings by social developers. In order to optimize the use of public funds from different levels of government, the transfer of federal property at no or reduced cost to social and community housing developers would be an incredible asset.
In the past, it has been difficult for social and community housing developers and managers to meet the conditions for acquiring buildings for conversion or construction of social and community housing. However, a few projects managed by housing authorities have been very successful in Quebec. These projects have favoured the creation of social and community housing, and they have also allowed the various community organizations to make their contribution and create living environments.
It would be advantageous if these conversion or construction projects related to federally owned buildings were undertaken as part of an approach that includes, among other things, the sustainable use of existing buildings built with public funds, an ecological contribution by avoiding, where possible, new construction, the development of available land into healthy and safe living spaces, and the mitigation, or even a significant and rapid reduction, of the housing shortage.
Social and community housing helps to combat poverty and promote the integration of vulnerable people. It is also a factor in improving—
Certainly, coordination is the key when you look to timely approvals. I think Hamilton, in terms of its approach, has really looked at what it can do to have those timelines work together so that we deliver a fast response.
In Hamilton we suffer challenges, particularly with the contamination and the ministerial response on many of our record-of-site conditions, and that slows down the affordable-housing portfolio in particular. Those are the sites that are typically most challenged when it comes to the fact that they are often more affordable for those willing to develop affordability, but, at the same time, present long-term challenges.
Therefore, coordination from a ministerial perspective as well as some internal changes would help deliver that, but I believe that, from Hamilton's perspective, all our time and effort is spent looking at what kinds of approaches can be done concurrently and deliver affordability as well as housing approvals in a very timely fashion.
Mr. Chair, I'll go to Mr. John next.
Mr. John, you know what the wait-list looks like in Hamilton and many other municipalities. It's at an all-time high in terms of sheer numbers. I think when I left, there were 6,200 families and individuals who were on the affordable housing wait-list, and they were waiting three or four years on average to secure a home.
One of the main goals of the fund is to increase supply but to increase affordable supply. I know we have a long track record in Hamilton of partnering with the private sector, not just to create units but to create affordable units. Could you elaborate on how the fund might incentivize the private sector to partner with the affordable housing community as it relates to creating new units, not just new units but affordable units?
Certainly, yes, in Hamilton we actually have a number of examples of working collaboratively with the development of a number of local organizations to not only build and intensify areas, but to do so by allowing affordability and also addressing local needs through that.
We have one example in our east end. It's an economically challenged area, but there's great access to highways and infrastructure, as well as the future LRT. We took advantage of using municipal incentives to ensure that the additional density that was created at those sites delivered on those local needs.
Through pretty much our only true, direct financial supports, being development charges and parkland exemptions, we were able to encourage a full rehabilitation of a former CityHousing Hamilton site to deliver over 1,000 units, with over 350 of those in rental tenure. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, rental tenure is a challenge in Hamilton. Then, on top of that, we were able to get those rental tenures actually delivered at some affordable rates below market.
Likewise, we also did a home ownership program, once again looking at that missing middle: How do we develop and provide for housing below market, but also allow for people to build equity in their homes going forward?
We built and predicated our funding approach on mixed income, building complete communities and basically liberating what was a socio-economically challenged area that had much infrastructure to support the residents that we knew would be flourishing in that area. We've done so; permits are being pulled right now and certainly units are being delivered far below the market.
It's the ability to continue and build on those. We had only a limited number of incentives coming from the city's levy. We could have gone to far greater depths of affordability had we had other financial supports with that process.
I thank the witnesses for being with us today.
The study we are conducting is somewhat exploratory. As we know, the government has decided to invest $4 billion over five years in the construction of 100 new housing units by 2024‑25. There is a lot of talk about affordable housing, but it will be important for us to agree on the definition of affordable housing. It will also be important to see how we can act on equity. The private sector seems to be playing a big role, but one has to ask whether this is the right way to do things.
Thank you for your opinion on this.
My first question is for Ms. Demers.
Ms. Demers, first of all, I wish the ROHQ a happy 50th anniversary. This is the first time you have appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. For 50 years, the ROHQ has worked with the most vulnerable people in our society. It has been committed to helping them for all these years. I would like to congratulate you.
I have read one of the briefs on the urban planning strategy that you presented in 2021. This brief was related to Quebec. Earlier, you talked about equity. In the brief, the following was mentioned: "Social and community housing must not only be seen, but also understood by the government and municipalities as a strategic land-use planning tool for equity in the housing market."
Could you tell us more about what is meant by "equity in the housing market"?
When we talk about equity in the context of the affordable housing market, we have to distinguish between, on the one hand, median rents based on the market in general and, on the other hand, rents based on the incomes of the most vulnerable households. We find that affordable housing programs are generally based on median rents.
But do these median rents really meet the needs of the most vulnerable people we want to support in the area of housing? We need to ask ourselves who we want to target.
To establish equity in the supply of social housing, we must first ask ourselves who we want to serve when we develop projects related to affordable housing, whether they are called community or social housing.
I agree with you about the definition of housing affordability. There is an urgent need to define this notion. I don't think the provinces and the federal government all have the same definition of what is affordable.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks so much to the witnesses today.
I want to thank the witnesses from the City of Hamilton for giving us that inside view, and I want to go back to something Mr. Thorne said.
Mr. Thorne, I'm going to ask you a question on this. You mentioned having a clarified goal. I'm not sure that the housing accelerator fund has a clarified goal.
I'm looking at what it was initially described as: housing supply to be increased in the largest cities everywhere in the country; creating 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25; application-based to offer municipalities the opportunity to grow housing supply, increase densification and speed up approval times and these sorts of things.
Really, what the conversation has been about in this committee over the last few weeks is the need to address the core housing needs of the communities, and it has really moved towards rental housing and not-for-profit housing, which is not the same thing as the way the housing accelerator fund was positioned at the beginning. I think we really need to get an idea of what this housing accelerator fund needs to do, because I'd like to focus specifically on the rental housing.
In our testimony back on May 16, we heard from the executive director of the Neighbourhood Land Trust about the fact that we need to start protecting some of the affordable rental housing that already exists. I heard it again today. I would just ask you, Mr. Thorne, if you could give us a little more information for testimony around what you think the housing accelerator fund can do to protect purpose-built rental, low-income rental and rental that is going to address core needs in the community, and how saving or protecting that could be faster than new construction.
I'll offer a couple of thoughts.
One—and I think I've heard it from other witnesses as well—is around the direct acquisition by either municipalities or housing providers of some of that low-cost rental housing that is market housing but is at risk of escalating rents. I think that would be a useful part of the program.
As well, though, I don't want to shortchange the supply side of incentivizing and supporting new supply for rental, and that could be market rental, because if we don't do that, then we're going to direct that investment to some of the existing rental stock that we already have and to the acquisition of it in the private marketplace and the upscaling of the rents in those locations. There's an acquisition component to it.
I also think there is a component of acquisition of vacant lands in order to build new rental stock.
I would agree with the premise of the question. From my standpoint, it is a bit unclear where the focus of this program would be, and I would suggest that increasing housing supply is very important but that we cannot be agnostic to the important questions of affordability, tenure, type, location and environmental performance, which I think are equally important goals.
Paramount to this is building complete communities. This isn't sacrificing one thing for the delivery of affordability. Affordability needs to be in the lexicon of every new development. It needs to be understood that it is a pressing need, but it is also the right response for every community to accommodate the needs of every single resident.
As I mentioned, the federal government has had a number of funding envelopes that have actually supported the delivery of housing units in various elements of our housing spectrum. My understanding of the housing accelerator fund is that it isn't necessarily focused on deep affordability, but rather on supply. However, similar to previous comments today, we can target that supply so we're actually addressing local housing needs.
As I mentioned, rental housing is one of the key pieces in Hamilton. We've struggled to build new rental housing. The market is not strong, so any fund that can support the offsetting of those long-term costs of building rental tenure in Hamilton would be a significant step forward in addressing some of that.
The other piece is the operating side. We have a rich number of housing providers who deliver affordable housing. Engaging them in the discussion and understanding what the needs are from an operating perspective and a pro forma perspective will allow us to get meaningful rental in the right locations, at the right household composition, and delivered to those families in most need of sustainability.
Beyond just the direct financial tools the city is offering in terms of development charges and parkland dedication dispensations, I think you've picked up on a number of those planning-related pieces too. Parking is one. Often the requirement for over-provision of parking is a barrier to rental and affordable housing. We have to look at how we build in mixed incomes. How do we build a building that can appeal to those of lower economic means, remove stigma from affordability, and also build a complete community within the towers themselves? We have to stop looking at neighbourhoods as individual units, and start looking at them as buildings that are organic and delivering key messages throughout the city.
Chair, before we go back to questioning the witnesses on the study at hand, I just wanted to turn back to our guest of one week ago, the , and the issue of passports.
I was very pleased to see my colleague, Ms. Gladu, prominently featured in the media and asking not only about service delays to this point, Chair, but what the plans are for the future. With that, Mr. Chair, I am presenting a motion and putting it on notice here today, right now, so that the wishes of not only Ms. Gladu but all Canadians can be fulfilled in making sure the government is staying on track with passport delivery and all services coming out of Service Canada.
I have it here, Mr. Chair, in both official languages. The motion is as follows:
That, given the recent reports of passport renewal delays, the committee send for, from Service Canada, a weekly progress report including the number of passport requests in the previous week; the number of passports cleared in the previous week; the current backlog; the number of express passports processed in the previous week for travel within 25 days; the number of express passports processed in the previous week for travel within five days; and a resumé of trends over the last four weeks.
Mr. Chair, as a former consul for Canada, I would also be interested in seeing these numbers.
With that, Mr. Chair, I will now pass the opportunity to ask questions to Mr. Liepert.
Thank you very much.
Thank you to all the witnesses this morning.
Cathy, I have a quick question and then I'm going to see if there's still time, as my colleague might have another question for the witnesses.
Despite what we heard this morning from our guest from Hamilton, the thing I continually hear from developers and construction folks in Calgary is about the delays and the costs associated with municipal regulations and barriers. It seems like it's a blame game. The contractors blame municipalities. Municipalities, to some degree, blame the province. The province blames the feds, and the feds end up blaming everybody else combined, hence the accelerator fund.
The was here last week, and I'm not sure I got the right answer. I'd like to hear from you what municipalities can do from a measurement standpoint to see.... If this accelerator fund was designed to clear away some of the hurdles, how is it going to be measured to make sure we're actually getting there and getting value for our money?
That's a great question. I agree there is always a blame game.
The Alberta provincial government has been very focused on red tape reduction. In its attempt to reduce provincial red tape, a lot of it has been downloaded as red tape onto municipalities. We are constantly being asked to jump through hoops to achieve the province's goals. It's probably a question for the planning department at my municipality, but I can tell you that at the municipal level, our goal is to act, especially in a mid-sized city range.
I'd like to add that a lot of the housing product ends up in the bigger cities of Edmonton and Calgary, yet you have good projects in my municipality, right on the outskirts. We have a piece of land in our downtown core that we're giving to our housing foundation. They'll need to make it mixed housing. It can't be completely subsidized, because we need some of the market housing to offset the below-market. If this accelerator fund can help those foundations increase the number of doors, then we're bringing it.... The same number of doors are being developed, but it'll create a higher percentage of those that are subsidized versus those that are not.
As for the red tape reduction, our level of government—I can quite proudly say—has worked very hard. This is such a priority for us. I'm currently in Regina, at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. This was the number one topic we spoke about during the entire five-day conference: how to get more housing product out, and what we can do as municipalities—things like parking regulations. We can and should be doing that.
We can create tool kits, if you need them, to help municipalities adjust their realm of responsibility and work more closely with the provincial government. I think that's always key: working closely.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be sharing my time with Mr. Coteau. If you could stop me at two and a half minutes, I'd appreciate that.
My question is for Ms. Heron.
What criteria do you think should be used to determine which municipalities can access the building funds, that is, either the municipality or their housing service providers? I know there are different needs in different municipalities. There was a suggestion that these funds could be distributed on the same basis as the gas tax distribution.
What are your thoughts on that, and what should the criteria be? What should the measurable, achievable, realistic and controllable goals be that the municipalities should sign on to in order to be eligible for those funds?
That's a great question, but I'm not exactly sure I would focus on the same measure as the gas tax, because the needs are different in different municipalities.
One of the things that I think would really be beneficial in getting more housing on the market is a regional approach. For example, in my area, we have the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board. We work together, as a board, to address our priorities for transportation. Then we submit a list to the province and say, “These are the projects we would like funded.” That could absolutely happen with a housing file. Each municipality identifies its needs and projects.
Doing this with a regional approach also distributes the housing among municipalities. Right now, in a municipality such as mine, if I can't house people, they end up in Edmonton, which contributes to a lot of the social problems happening in the bigger cities.
I think that would be a great criterion. I also think it's the ability to get it out there fast.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for being here today.
Mr. Thorne, you mentioned brownfield sites being used to increase supply. I know that in Toronto, the Canary District, for example, was built on contaminated property. It really transformed that area of the city. I've always looked at brownfield sites as huge opportunities. According to a recent report I read, there are about 30,000 brownfield sites across Canada.
You mentioned putting grants forward to help developers purchase land, but I've also heard from people involved in industry that there's been concern over long-term litigation from contaminants, so there's getting the right insurance policies, and sometimes they are not available.
Are there issues like that, or other issues you've encountered as a planner, that make brownfield sites harder for developers to use and cities to utilize?
Ms. Demers, we have received Ms. Edith Cyr, from the organization Bâtir son quartier, which you probably know. She gave us an important message: this $4 billion fund over five years, which aims to create 100,000 new housing units, is focused on supply, whereas it is demand that is strong in terms of affordable rental housing.
I also share the view that the focus should be on social and community housing developers, because the private market, in our view, doesn't really need to be subsidized. It is self-sufficient.
In your opinion, should a percentage of this fund be dedicated to affordable rental housing? If so, what should that percentage be? What is your opinion on that?
My question will be for Mr. John.
I want to thank the witnesses today, because the witness testimony is so powerful in these committees. One sentence can lead to a recommendation, can change a recommendation or can change the path of the housing accelerator fund. This housing accelerator fund came to this committee for study, and it is our opportunity to impact what that might look like.
Going back to the idea that perhaps the goal of the fund is not clearly stated and it is not necessarily meeting the need for core housing or what is needed right now, I want to ask Mr. John about the criteria.
We had the here last week. I asked him about accessible housing, and I was told that a portion of any housing that's funded through the housing accelerator fund would need to be accessible. Madame Chabot has brought up affordability many times. What are those criteria? What do they look like?
I guess I would ask you, Mr. John, what you have heard. Is there a clear understanding of what the criteria are to access this funding? Do you have a definition for affordable housing and accessible housing that should or could be in this funding criteria?
I think during my opening comments I talked about flexibility, because I think we need to deliver housing that's right for the community and where it will reside. When it comes to the definitions, as much as they will provide predictability, we are looking for that flexibility.
Surely the fairest definition of affordability is that it meets the needs of the individual. It is based on their ability to pay for that unit. I think that would be the fairest approach to that.
Similarly, when it comes to tenure, I know Hamilton has a great need for rental tenure, particularly accessible rental tenure. Often, those with disabilities struggle to find rental tenure that meets their needs.
I would push that many of those options are determined at the local level. What I would really stress is that it not be a punitive approach. Guidelines around predictability are important, but I think, instead of looking at punitive measures, what you do is look towards bonusing those who are taking this fund, leveraging all other abilities as a municipality to deliver on local housing need.
Ultimately, any opportunity to take a sum of money and then demonstrate in response back to the federal government how we have taken that money, leveraged it and delivered on local housing needs should be a priority and a bonus opportunity as opposed to a punitive approach where every municipality is forced by the requirement for a certain percentage of accessibility or a certain definition of affordability.
I think there's an opportunity there to work flexibly within the system, providing clear guidelines but also allowing the bonus of the ability within the municipality to demonstrate where they have shown leadership and commitment to the individual housing needs of their community.