An Urgent Call to Amend the Plan: Alliance Deputation to City of Ottawa Planning Committee

We urge the City to renegotiate the terms of Hazelview's Official Plan Amendment (OPA) to create a more effective agreement for affordable housing. Despite significant efforts by City staff and Councillor Cloutier to negotiate the inclusion of affordable housing in the OPA for the Herongate community, the commitments by Hazelview are simply not good enough. As this deal with Hazelview is the first of its kind, it is critical to get this right. 

Affordable housing is rapidly declining in Ottawa. Between 2011 - 2016, for every 1 affordable unit built in Ottawa, 7 affordable market rent units were lost. Given the overheated housing market of the last year, this trend has likely only accelerated. Reports of “renovictions”, where a landlord evicts tenants in order to sell the building to the highest bidder, have increased to the point that federal political parties are naming this as part of the housing crisis in the country. 

Ottawa’s City Council was the first in the country to declare a housing and homelessness emergency. This landmark deal with Hazelview is another opportunity to lead the way in developing a strong precedent for private developers on how affordable housing must be integrated into all new builds. This needs to be a moment where we demonstrate our commitment to ensuring diverse neighbourhoods where people from all income levels can afford to live. 

Unfortunately, the current terms of this OPA fall short. While we appreciate the need for a staggered approach, the timeline for the creation of affordable housing will not meet the needs of the community. Over the next 20 years, just 510 units will be provided as secured affordable homes in the existing buildings. 

The City’s Official Plan defines affordable housing as housing for which low or moderate-income households pay no more than 30 percent of their gross annual income, regardless of the type of unit or number of bedrooms. Yet affordability is defined in two different ways in the OPA, both of which are problematic and discriminatory towards people in need of deeply affordable housing - the very families that were evicted in the first place, that had been promised the option to return. 

The first affordability commitment is that units will remain at or below Average Market Rent (AMR) for 20 years. This definition will apply to 510 units in existing buildings. There is no formal commitment here to ensure that a certain percentage of these are multi-bedroom or family-sized, as was originally promised by Timbercreek before becoming Hazelview. Only a “willingness” is expressed, which means little. In other words, low-income families will have little to no access to family-sized units. This is particularly relevant as many of the households evicted were families with children. These measures of affordability ignore the reality of this community and they ignore the reality of our city. Affordability must be based on what people actually earn, not what a speculation-driven market enables. 

The additional 510 units in new buildings will be rented based on average income deciles, missing the mark on true affordability. While there is a commitment to ensure that households renting these units are only paying 30% of their household income, the OPA assumptions around household incomes ignore the economic reality of the community that has been evicted. The average annual household income in Ottawa is just over $86,000 - one of the highest in the country. Yet in Herongate, the majority of households earn between $10,000 - $53,000. For rent to be considered affordable to the majority of households in this neighbourhood, according to the City’s own definition, a maximum monthly rent of $1325.00 is required. 

Further, according to the OPA, the measure being used to determine income affordability is based on income deciles. This definition is joined by a chart that seems to imply that household income deciles are tied to unit size and no other information is offered to provide clarity. The 2nd average household income decile is $42,000 - already a number that will exclude many Herongate residents. This decile is tied to a bachelor apartment. The implication of this chart indicates that households in need of multiple bedrooms are somehow in much higher income deciles. It should go without saying that children are not to be income-earners, so it is hard to understand why this interpretation is presented at all. 

Further, there is no commitment throughout the MOU to ensure that larger units are actually reserved for households in lower-income deciles. This is a striking lack of clarity, and leaves the door open for higher-income decile households to rent one of these “affordable” units. A formal commitment needs to be made in the MOU ensuring that these affordable units are actually reserved for households in lower-income deciles to ensure access to affordable housing for the households in need of it most.

Families are the fastest-growing homeless population in Ottawa. In addition to the lack of commitment to family-sized units for low-income households, the time limit on affordability only delays homelessness or housing precarity for households. The commitment to affordability for 10 years will simply displace these communities in 10 years time if we do not ensure affordability in perpetuity. The homelessness and housing affordability crisis will not disappear between now and 2030 -- we need to use all of the mechanisms we have, including private developer social agreements, to ensure we are creating policies that will have a lasting impact on affordability in our city.

After the build is complete, just 16% of the units will have controlled rents that are still not affordable to low-income communities. This sets a dangerous precedent for the future of Inclusionary Zoning in Ottawa. It is critical to get this right if we are going to see meaningful change in the number of households on the waitlist for affordable housing and on the number of people sleeping rough every night on our streets and in our parks. 

Affordable housing cannot be considered affordable if low and moderate-income households cannot afford to live there. We urge you to instead work with the City’s current definition of affordable housing to achieve stronger, deeper, affordability for this community. At the end of the build, at least 20% of the units should be deeply affordable. This deep affordability must be in perpetuity with a legally binding commitment to family-sized and accessible units.

While the federal and provincial governments are called on to invest in more affordable housing, municipalities have the strongest means of leverage for affordable development. Planning decisions and zoning approvals are one of the most effective tools that municipalities can use to ensure we have a city where people can afford to live. 

We urge you to use that power now and set a higher standard for affordability in our community. Future developers will look to this as the bar for social contract negotiations moving forward. This decision is meant to right the wrongs of one of the largest mass evictions in North America. It is also about setting a precedent so that we do not have another Herongate. Hazelview’s commitments to this community may fall short, but our commitments to them and future communities at risk must not. 

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