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Affordable Housing & Thinking Outside the Box

I recently had the chance to sit down with Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario. He was gracious enough to give me almost 2 hours of his time, with which we covered a number of topics, but focused on the struggle of those in their late 20s to mid 30s who are trying to start out. The biggest obstacle for this group? Lack of affordable housing.

There is a difference between affordable housing and subsidized housing, although the two terms are used interchangeably by most news outlets and politicians, not to mention the general public.

Subsidized housing (for the purpose of this discussion) is housing which is purposefully built for those who are under/unemployed and struggling to find their feet. It’s sometimes referred to as “geared to income” housing. There are a number of issues that come with subsidized housing, including stigmatizing a particular population, but I have written about the need for integrated housing in a previous blog article that you can read HERE.

Affordable housing on the other hand, is housing which is developed for those looking to purchase a first home, live within their means and/or step out on their own, usually for the first time. There has been a lot written about millennial entitlement or the inability for the younger generation to save sufficiently to afford a home. The truth is that there are those who feel they ought to have a new loft, stone counter tops, or even a detached home with no work required. I’ve met them and worked with them. BUT, the overwhelming majority of my friends and clients – I am a single 30 something – have incredibly low standards and little preference for style and work required as long as they can afford it.

There are a number of internal and external factors that affect the affordability of homes. Mike and I discussed many of them at length. However, in Guelph, one of the most notable factors is that there is absolutely zero new construction focused on affordability.  Guelph does not need any more purpose-built student housing, nor do we need any more luxury rental apartments. In my opinion, these builds are falsely creating a market that does not exist, or rather should not exist if there were more and better options for affordable housing. 

While projects like The Metalworks and the TriCar developments provide much needed intensification and redevelopment of under-used land, the base price (without parking) is still out of reach for many first-time buyers and those trying to live within their means.  We need to start considering creative solutions to an issue that has the potential to impact all of us here in Guelph. 

Most politicians and builders try to operate within the current guidelines which do nothing but exacerbate the problem. There are a number of bureaucratic and political barriers that need to be addressed- but why not create solutions and then find ways to make them happen?

One “out of the box” idea that we discussed was having smaller, local builders purchase laneways, disused garages or portions of lots that are not being used and building/refurbishing the structures that are currently there.  We’ve all seen the dilapidated detached garages in the older areas of town that very few people use for anything at all.  Why not use these to create beautiful new homes?

There are solutions if we are willing to work for them and see the opportunities around us.  By providing new and better affordable housing options, we will create a more stable, happy and vibrant community here in Guelph.  Unstable housing, high priced rentals and lack of options force people to look outside of Guelph for a place to establish themselves and their families.  Affordable housing allows people to establish themselves as a part of the community, frees up income for them to spend in the city they have settled in and would potentially allow for greater employment for local builders. We just need to think outside the box!