Deputation at the Joint Finance & Planning Committee

November 2nd, 2023 - Lansdowne 2.0 - Presented by our Executive Director Kaite Burkholder Harris:

Dear Chair and members of the Committee,

I’m speaking today on behalf of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa - an organization representing over 75 agencies in Ottawa in the housing and homelessness sector. In the past year, we’ve been encouraged by Council’s focus on affordable housing and homelessness as the key priority issue for this term of Council. 

 

As part of our Starts With Home campaign leading up to last year’s municipal election,16 councilors endorsed the messages of stop the loss of affordable housing, create more affordable housing, and preserve the quality of affordable housing. In anticipation of the City’s application for the Housing Accelerator Fund, we presented our report “Starts With Home: Scaling Up Non-Profit Housing in Ottawa” to Planning Committee with recommendations to use scale, zoning enablers, and public land to significantly increase non-profit housing. 

For the past few years, I have tried to see a path for private developers to build affordable housing. I have spoken with developers wanting to tackle the housing crisis by building affordable housing. Despite good intentions, the numbers simply do not work in this market. And even when there are private market builds with affordable rental, the standard of affordability does not apply to low and even middle - income earners. 

For Ottawa, even households earning up to $82K a year, can still only afford to pay $1700 / month for housing costs according to CMHC’s definition of affordability. The average market rent for a one bedroom in Ottawa is $2000/ month. Never mind if a household requires more than one bedroom.

If we want to scale affordable housing, we need to scale non-profit housing. Deals with developers for limited term affordable housing agreements of 10-15 years are useless. It’s kicking a crisis down the road. The affordability standards within those agreements don’t begin to meet the housing needs of our community. 

Public land is the city’s greatest asset to scale desperately needed non-profit housing. Lansdowne is public land and as a result, I would urge Council to think ambitiously about how we could leverage this asset in the most impactful way possible to address our housing crisis. 

There are two paths to achieving this. The current proposal could include a mandated non-profit housing component, similar to the Dream LeBreton model with Multi-Faith Housing. The non-profit units will remain affordable in perpetuity under the ownership of Multi-Faith Housing, and integrated into the overall build. It is likely this ship has sailed with the Lansdowne proposal, but if there is still opportunity to re-think the design, then please consider this recommendation.

Unless this type of deliberate, non-profit/ private partnership is integrated into the proposal, the units in Lansdowne were never going to be truly affordable and we should stop pretending that the private market can deliver affordable housing. Given this, using the money from the sale of the air-rights and investing these in non-profit housing is a far more efficient use of our scarce resources. However, we need to allocate far more than $3.9 million from the sale towards non-profit housing. At minimum, we urge Council to put 25% of the total sale towards Council’s own stated Term priority - affordable housing. 

In speaking with non-profit housing providers, $3.9 million buys about 10 units of non-profit housing. It doesn’t enable scale. It barely scrapes the surface. The City should be getting more out of this deal. A week ago today, the Mayor and Council called for an Emergency Shelter Crisis Task Force. I commend the urgency with which Council is responding to the crisis on our streets, as we face the very real threat of people freezing to death this winter. 

However, we cannot continue to separate the housing and homelessness crisis from decisions like Lansdowne where we have a choice to invest in long-term solutions, using the City resources we have. Please invest wisely. Please invest in building a city where everyone can afford to live with dignity in a safe, affordable home.

 

Thank you.

 

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