Ontario Minister of Housing Peter Milczyn announced on April 11th new regulations that allow municipalities in Ontario to require affordable housing be built in new residential developments. This planning tool, known as inclusionary zoning, will allow municipalities to add more desperately needed affordable housing as they grow and develop. Wellesley Institute has been at the forefront of research on inclusionary zoning, including hosting a foundational conference in 2008 and publishing research reports on implementing inclusionary zoning in Ontario. Allowing inclusionary zoning is a significant step forward for creating a healthier and more equitable Ontario.
Ontario is grappling with an affordable housing crisis that is having large costs for the health and well-being of residents. When people cannot find decent housing they can afford, their health and well-being suffers. Unaffordable housing eats into families’ budgets, displacing the resources required for healthy food, prescriptions, dental care, and recreation. Unaffordable housing contributes to stress, instability, and evictions. While it is not a silver bullet and other housing funding will still be required, inclusionary zoning can help to improve health and well-being through the production of substantial new affordable housing in our communities.
Ontario cities and municipalities will now have the power to design inclusionary zoning plans that work best for their local residents and housing markets. Municipalities will be allowed to decide how much affordable housing is required in new developments, how long it must remain affordable for, and who qualifies to occupy the units. It will also give municipalities the ability to contribute to the cost of these new affordable homes through a variety of means, such as density bonuses, reduced parking requirements, and expediated approvals.
The April 11th announcement is a big step forward from the restrictive inclusionary zoning regulations that were released for consultation in December 2017. These earlier regulations limited the number of affordable units, the length they were to be affordable for, and required steep costs be paid for by municipalities. Wellesley Institute identified a number of ways that these regulations could be amended to maximize the opportunity to create significant affordable housing and build more mixed-income communities through inclusionary zoning. We commend the Ontario government for the formulation of these new regulations which recognize and address the concerns of the Wellesley Institute and over 60 other community organizations.
These new inclusionary zoning regulations provide Ontario municipalities significant flexibility and discretion, and with this comes serious responsibilities. Municipalities will need to make inclusionary zoning plans that produce substantial affordable housing and work with the local housing market. To this end market assessment reports will be required to analyse the local housing market and make sure that inclusionary zoning plans build new affordable housing in our cities while encouraging new housing development across the cost spectrum.
Ontario municipalities will now need to step up to the plate to produce inclusionary zoning plans and bylaws that are based on best evidence from around the world. Inclusionary zoning provides a tried and tested tool for producing affordable housing which has been used in cities such as New York, London, and Sydney. Inclusionary zoning plans vary widely, and the details of the municipal plans will matter for how successful they are.
The Wellesley Institute looks forward to being part of these municipal conversations on building productive, evidence-based IZ plans that will lead to healthier and more inclusive communities through the provision of new affordable housing. The upcoming Ontario election requires that some attention remain at the provincial level as well.