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York Region municipalities must carve out a future for affordable housing

Yvonne Kelly
June 14, 2021

Last February, York Region council declared an affordable housing crisis, then passed a motion to make land available to solve the problem.

The motion proposes that each municipality commit two acres of land every five years for affordable units to be built by not-for-profit developers or Housing York Inc.

The catch  -- municipalities must take up the challenge. In April, Newmarket council voted in favour of the region’s motion.

Which municipality will be next?

Numerous factors are at play, making this a pivotal moment for municipalities to commit land for affordable housing.

1. In June 2019, the federal government declared housing as a human right and established a national housing strategy.

2. Not-for-profit organizations (NFPs) can now apply for Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) seed funding and, eventually, long-term low-interest loans.

They are in a unique position to build what is required for priority populations. The main barrier standing in the way is access to land.

3. COVID-19 has revealed the growing inequities which are leaving more individuals and families homeless and displaced than ever before.

If we do not make serious attempts to increase affordable housing stock, we can expect a rise in unacceptable levels of human suffering, the costs of which will largely be borne at the local level.

In April 2019, the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University published "Governments in Ontario Making Headway in Using Surplus Lands for Housing."

The report states that, to tackle the affordability issue, governments at all levels have turned to the use of surplus public land to build affordable housing.

It cited examples across Ontario and Canada where municipal lands have been used for this purpose, many of which were successful in acquiring CMHC funds.

Long-term leasing (30 to 50 years) of municipal lands at nominal rates could be the solution. The land remains owned by a municipality, while CMHC provides funds for NFP developers to construct and operate affordable housing.

Whereas private developers offer between five and 15 per cent of their units as affordable, when required to do so, NFPs traditionally include 50 to 80 per cent of affordable units in their buildings.

By supporting the capacity of NFP organizations and developers, provincial, regional and municipal governments can accelerate the growth of purpose-built affordable housing options.

With this opportunity in our sights, it is time for York Region residents to tell their municipal leaders that making land available for affordable housing is a priority.


For information about the Affordable Housing Coalition of York Region, email