The vote to approve Hazelview Properties’ Official Plan Amendment (OPA) has set a troubling precedent in the fight for affordable housing. The affordability standards defined by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) are too low and members of the Herongate community have been left underserved. In the midst of a housing and homelessness emergency, this agreement misses the mark.
The City’s efforts to secure the MOU with Hazelview Properties are notable. Binding a developer to the inclusion of affordable housing in a large-scale development represents an important step in the right direction. However, without a deep and meaningful commitment to housing that is truly affordable, this step will not make the impact it is intended to. Lacking such a commitment, the standard set by the MOU will not lead to the kind of affordable housing that serves this community.
We know that the lack of access to affordable housing is a systems issue. Allowing the OPA to move forward in its current form means that developers such as Hazelview will continue to aim for the lowest level of affordability within their developments. For more and more families, the ability to live in vibrant, diverse neighbourhoods will grow further out of reach.
While 1,020 affordable units may sound like a cause for celebration, they come with a definition of affordability that is irrelevant to the Herongate community. By tying its affordability standard to that set by the City, Hazelview Properties must ensure its affordable units are rented at no more than 30% of a household’s income. However, their benchmark is set using the average annual household income of Ottawa. In Herongate, household income is $33,000 less than the city average. As a result, these new “affordable” units will remain unaffordable to the majority of Herongate community members.
For-profit developers cannot be the architects of truly affordable housing that serves the needs of low and moderate-income people. Changing the tide on growing homelessness and core housing need requires a long-term perspective on the health of our city.
Hazelview’s agreement to maintain its affordable unit rates for a 15-20 year period demonstrates a lack of investment in creating the lasting change needed. We cannot afford to push this issue down the road. Affordable housing must stay affordable.
Hazelview made clear to Council that they were unwilling to further negotiate the MOU and would walk away from the deal if it did not pass, rather than work to ensure real affordability for this community. Left without bargaining power, the City hopes this agreement will get them to the table with the private developer, where they hope to have bigger gains for the community.
Approval of Hazelview’s amendment to the OPA is a worrying sign for the direction of future development decisions. The desperate need for affordable housing in Herongate, and Ottawa generally, is immediate and sincere. It cannot hang on hopes and half measures. The gaps left by Hazelview’s commitments demonstrate the need to have stronger regulations in the new Official Plan for the creation and maintenance of affordable housing.
We cannot leave the future of our city up to private developers who can threaten to simply walk away from the needs of our communities. We have the power to create stronger plans with regulations that have teeth to give us real bargaining power and ensure all developers building in Ottawa create truly affordable housing. Even with this agreement, Herongate remains one of the largest mass evictions in North America. We have the power to ensure this doesn’t happen again in our city. Let’s use it.