Affordable Housing Strategy

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The supply of affordable housing in Waterloo has not kept pace with demand. Over the past few decades, housing prices and rents have increased substantially faster than incomes, creating affordability challenges for many Waterloo households. The impact of reduced affordability can be seen region-wide in increased homelessness and a growing community housing waitlist and longer wait times. Populations most affected by the gap between income and housing costs include older adults, Indigenous peoples, new Canadians, single parent households, and individuals experiencing mental health challenges and/or addictions. Increasingly, young adults and moderate income earners are also finding it challenging to secure housing that they can afford.

To address the growing problem of housing affordability, the City of Waterloo is developing an Affordable Housing Strategy. The strategy will identify actions to be undertaken by the City to protect the existing affordable housing stock and to increase the supply of new affordable housing in the City. The strategy will consider approaches to address affordability challenges for low and moderate income households, and options to ensure a sustainable supply of a diverse range of housing types, sizes and tenures (i.e. ownership or rental housing).

Check out our latest research and recommendations in the documents section on the right side of the page. You can leave a comment at anytime if you have ideas or suggestions about affordable housing.

The supply of affordable housing in Waterloo has not kept pace with demand. Over the past few decades, housing prices and rents have increased substantially faster than incomes, creating affordability challenges for many Waterloo households. The impact of reduced affordability can be seen region-wide in increased homelessness and a growing community housing waitlist and longer wait times. Populations most affected by the gap between income and housing costs include older adults, Indigenous peoples, new Canadians, single parent households, and individuals experiencing mental health challenges and/or addictions. Increasingly, young adults and moderate income earners are also finding it challenging to secure housing that they can afford.

To address the growing problem of housing affordability, the City of Waterloo is developing an Affordable Housing Strategy. The strategy will identify actions to be undertaken by the City to protect the existing affordable housing stock and to increase the supply of new affordable housing in the City. The strategy will consider approaches to address affordability challenges for low and moderate income households, and options to ensure a sustainable supply of a diverse range of housing types, sizes and tenures (i.e. ownership or rental housing).

Check out our latest research and recommendations in the documents section on the right side of the page. You can leave a comment at anytime if you have ideas or suggestions about affordable housing.

  • Affordable Housing Strategy Discussion Paper

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    Read the Discussion Paper that describes a range of possible actions that could be included in the Affordable Housing Strategy and let us know what you think! The discussion paper was presented to council on April 4 2022.

    The Affordable Housing Strategy Discussion Paper identifies 30 possible actions that the city could take to help improve housing affordability in the City. As you are reviewing the Discussion Paper, please consider:

    1) Which actions do you think are the most important? The least important? Why?

    2) If you have other ideas or actions that the City should explore that weren’t already mentioned?

    Please share your comments on the discussion paper with our project team!

    This critical phase of the work identifies key drivers of declining affordability and incudes six goals and 30 actions that the city could undertake to address those drivers. The strategy that is ultimately developed will align and support broader provincial and regional planning and funding frameworks and focus on the areas within the city’s scope of influence. Following consultation, staff will bring an Affordable Housing Strategy to Council for consideration later this year.

    The six sections of the discussion paper are:

    • Defining affordable housing
    • Strategy purpose and scope
    • Causes of declining housing affordability
    • Principles, goals and targets
    • Tools and approaches
    • Conclusions & Recommendations


  • Approaches to improve housing affordability

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    There are many tools and approaches that municipalities can use to increase the affordability of housing. These approaches generally fall into one or more of the following categories:

    1. Increase overall housing supply
      A shortage of housing can put upward pressure on rents and prices, making housing less affordable to more households. Municipalities can help address this challenge by adopting approaches that enable the construction of a sufficient supply of housing to meet current and future demands.

    2. Increase affordable housing supply
      An inadequate supply of below market rate and/or subsidized housing can lead to long housing waitlists, households living in inadequate or unsuitable housing, and in extreme cases, homelessness. Municipalities can adopt approaches that make it easier and less expensive for builders to construct more below market rate and subsidized housing, and they can require new affordable housing units to be included as part of a larger development in specific parts of the city.

    3. Prevent loss of existing affordable housing
      Loss of affordable housing units reduces the overall affordable housing supply. Households that are displaced may struggle to find comparably priced housing in a system with increasingly constrained supply. Affordable housing units can be removed from the housing system when rental buildings containing at or below average market rent units are converted to condominium or when sites are renovated or redeveloped and the new units are sold at much higher prices/rents than the units they are replacing. Municipalities can address these challenges by adopting approaches that discourage the removal of affordable units, encourage the replacement of lost units with units of a similar rent or price and help educate landlords and tenants of their rights and obligations.

    4. Increase the diversity in the housing supply
      A variety of housing types, sizes and tenures located throughout the city can ensure that the right type of housing is available to households of different sizes, with different incomes, and at different life stages. Sufficient housing diversity can also enable households to move to more suitable housing when their circumstances change, resulting in vacancies that support other households looking for housing. Municipalities can adopt policies and regulations to encourage the construction of housing types that are in short supply in the local market, or within specific geographic areas of the city, such as purpose-built rental units, accessible units, smaller units within low density neighbourhoods, and family-sized units within mid-rise buildings.

    Here we've listed some possible approaches to address the city’s affordable housing challenges. We want to know what you think of these approaches. Are there some that you think would be more effective than others? Are there approaches that we are missing that should be included? Let us know what you think by responding to the housing location and affordable housing surveys. You can also send us your thoughts by emailing the Project Team, or by using the Guestbook.

    Planning policy/regulation affordable housing approaches:

    • Update residential land use policies and zoning regulations. Policies and regulations in Official Plan and zoning bylaw that enable or encourage wider range of housing and tenure types throughout the city.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase housing diversity.

    • Intensification. Policies and regulations in the Official Plan and zoning by-law to permit higher heights/densities in appropriate areas of the city to induce housing development.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase housing diversity.

    • Infill. Initiatives and incentives to encourage the development of vacant or underutilized sites. These could include minimum heights or densities to promote efficient redevelopment of underutilized areas.

      Primary impact: increase housing supply

    • Inclusionary zoning - major transit station areas. Policies and regulations that require development in major transit station areas to include a certain percentage of affordable units. (Exploration of this approach is already underway).

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Community Planning Permit System (CPPS). A development approval framework to streamline and expedite development approvals by consolidating Official Plan amendments, zoning by-law amendments and site planning into a single review process. This approach can be applied city-wide or to a specific geographic area and can include inclusionary zoning, if deemed appropriate.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply, increase affordable housing supply

    • Condominium conversion policies and by-law. Policies and regulations that restrict conversion of rental housing to condominium. Can include conditions for approval of conversions such as the requirement for 1 to 1 replacement of rental units at similar rents for a certain period of time.

      Primary impact: prevent loss of affordable housing.

    • Demolition control policies and by-law. Policies and regulations that restrict demolition of rental housing. Can include conditions for approval of demolition, such as the requirement for 1 to 1 replacement of rental units at similar rents for a certain period of time.

      Primary impact: prevent loss of affordable housing.

    • Second residential units. Policies and regulations that enable property owners to construct second residential units within an existing dwelling and/or in an accessory structure such as a coach house.

      Primary impacts: increase affordable housing supply; increase housing diversity.

    • Density bonusing. A planning approval framework that could require developers to provide affordable housing or a financial contribution towards the city’s affordable housing reserve in exchange for additional height and density permissions.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Development performance standards. Flexible planning and engineering standards that enable the efficient use of land and can indirectly or directly encourage affordable housing, such as reduced parking rates, reduced setbacks, narrower lot sizes, reduced road allowances and on-street parking.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase affordable housing supply.

    • Mixed-use zoning. Zoning regulations that permit residential uses within office and commercial areas.

      Primary impact: increase housing supply.

    Financial affordable housing approaches:

    • Development charge exemptions. Exemptions for not-for-profit and/or affordable housing developments from development charges (in part or in whole). Waived charges would need to be recouped through other sources (e.g. Affordable Housing Reserve Fund).

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Planning/parkland fee exemptions. Exemptions for affordable housing development from planning application fees, building permit fees and/or parkland dedication fees. Waived fees would need be recouped through other sources (e.g. Affordable Housing Reserve Fund).

      Primary impact: Increase affordable housing supply.

    • Special property tax class / exemptions. Reduced rates or exemptions for different property classes including multi-residential buildings, and affordable housing owned and operated by a charitable not-for-profit.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase affordable housing supply.

    • Grants and loans. Grants or loans to support the construction of new affordable housing or adaptive reuse of buildings to include affordable units.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Funding of existing units. Provide direct financial support to a Not-for-Profit or Community Land Trust for the purchase of existing rental units that will be converted to or maintained as affordable housing.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Housing levy. A tax increase to directly fund affordable housing projects/programs, such as grants or loans (see Grants and loans).

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Housing reserve fund or trust fund. Ongoing allocation of revenue from existing sources to fund affordable housing projects/programs, such as grants or loans or fee waivers.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Vacant property tax. A tax imposed on owners of vacant residential units to discourage long term vacancy. Tax revenue can be directed to affordable housing reserve fund to fund affordable housing projects.

      Primary impact: prevent loss of affordable housing

    • Community Benefit Charges (CBC). CBCs are fees that can be applied to new development or redevelopment (in conjunction with development charges) to recover the capital costs of community services that will arise because of the development. There is a possibility that a CBC by-law could include the capital costs associated with the provision of affordable housing if it can be demonstrated that the development will result in an increased need for affordable housing.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Rental licensing fee subsidy for affordable housing. A waiver of the annual rental licensing fee for affordable rental housing units. Waived fees would need be recouped through other sources (e.g. Affordable Housing Reserve Fund).

      Primary impact: prevent loss of affordable housing.

    Advocacy, education and capacity building affordable housing approaches:

    • Promotion of city affordable housing initiatives. Communication of programs and guidelines for applications to make it easier for affordable housing providers to find the information they need.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase housing diversity.

    • Second residential unit toolkit. Planning support/guidance for property owners interested in developing a second unit, including affordable second units.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase housing diversity.

    • Staff capacity building. In-house expertise and awareness of affordable housing needs and tools/approaches to support the review and approval of new affordable housing projects.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Fast-track priority proposals. A one-window ‘concierge service’ to fast track priority affordable housing development applications.

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.

    • Building public support and awareness. Information and outreach to foster a better understanding of the need for and benefits of housing and particularly affordable housing.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase affordable housing supply.

    • Communicating tenant/landlord rights and obligations. Communicate tenants’ “right to return” after eviction due to repair or renovation and other landlord/tenant rights and obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act.

      Primary impact: prevent loss of affordable housing.

    • Research. Ongoing data collection and analysis of local housing needs and demand to complement Regional scale evaluations by the Region of Waterloo to inform planning policy. Could include collaborative approach for collecting and sharing housing data between the City and Region of Waterloo.

      Primary impacts: increase housing supply; increase affordable housing supply.

    • Program monitoring. Ongoing affordable housing policy and program monitoring.

      Primary impacts: increase affordable housing supply; prevent loss of affordable housing.

    Direct provision and strategic use of city-owned lands affordable housing approach:

    • Strategic use of city-owned lands. Consider affordable housing as a high priority objective in the analysis of future city-owned land asset sales or acquisitions and plans for city-owned properties (excluding parkland, environmental lands, and essential infrastructure lands).

      Primary impact: increase affordable housing supply.








  • Research and Innovation in Affordable Housing forum

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    On March 12, 2021, the City of Waterloo hosted a discussion forum on Research and Innovation in Affordable Housing. The discussion was an opportunity to learn about current and emerging researching in the field of housing planning and policy, and how we might use this knowledge to plan for more diverse, affordable and inclusive housing in Waterloo and beyond. The forum was moderated by Michelle Lee, Senior Policy Planner for the City of Waterloo, and included:

    • Dr. Martine August, Assistant Professor, School of Planning, University of Waterloo
    • Dr. Brian Doucet, Associate Professor, School of Planning, University of Waterloo
    • Dr. Sean Geobey, Assistant Professor, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo
    • Dr. Markus Moos, Associate Professor/Director, School of Planning, University of Waterloo
    • Dr. Dawn Parker, Professor, School of Planning, University of Waterloo


    Discussion questions:

    1. Based on your research, is inadequate supply the most important factor underlying declining housing affordability in Ontario? Are there other significant factors that contribute to increased house prices and rents locally and province-wide? (begins at about 03:12 in video)
    2. How can municipalities respond to these driving forces through planning policy and other actions in order to have meaningful impact on housing affordability? (begins at about 26:40 in video)
    3. What opportunities are there for the University of Waterloo and the City of Waterloo to collaborate on local housing policy and research? (begins at about 57:17 in video)

    The questions were followed by an open Q&A with the audience (begins at about 1:04:05 in video).



Page last updated: 16 Aug 2022, 04:04 PM