Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2022/ Housing Crisis

Housing Crisis

To nobody's surprise, housing and homelessness dominated the issues in this year's municipal election. People are upset by the encampments, by housing availability and affordability, about skyrocketing rents. People want answers from their politicians, and the answers the politicians answer are unsatisfying, slow, or both.

As somebody whose housing is precarious and has an excellent chance of being homeless when I lose my current housing, I too am invested in this issue. As usual, my outlook is pessimistic: I feel we are in a housing crisis that was decades in the making, and I don't think we are getting out of it anytime soon.

Update: I started writing this entry the day before the election, but the day after the election Doug Ford introduced Bill 23 which upends municipal planning rules (and in the case of Waterloo Region, the whole government) in an attempt to get more housing built. As I write this it is now mid December, and Bill 23 has come and gone. This entry has been sitting in my text editor for months. Everything has been upended. The province has chosen its course. As such, completing this entry and publishing it feels futile. Nonetheless, I want to be done with it, and maybe it contains something worthwhile.

  1. Housing Crisis
    1. Disambiguations
      1. Poverty vs Visible Poverty
      2. Addiction vs Affordability
      3. Homelessness vs Criminality
      4. Encampments vs Affordability
        1. Student Housing
      5. The Housing Spectrum
        1. Encampments vs Shelters
        2. Housing vs Supportive Housing
      6. Landlords vs Landlords
    2. Context
      1. The GTA Elephant
      2. Government Jurisdiction
      3. The Countryside Line
      4. NIMBYs
      5. Financialization and REITs
      6. AirBNB
      7. Jail
    3. Non-Solutions
      1. A Better Tent City
      2. Managed Encampments
      3. Municipalities Building All the Social Housing
      4. Defanging Conservation Authorities
      5. Defanging Regional Government
      6. Time-limited Inclusionary Zoning
      7. Moving the Goalposts
      8. Xenophobia
    4. Solutions
      1. Build Baby Build
      2. SROs and SHOW
      3. Informal Arrangements
      4. Inclusionary Zoning
      5. Progressive Transfer Taxes
      6. Blind Bidding
      7. Granny Flats, Duplexing, etc
      8. Sustainable Municipal Funding
      9. Rent controls?
      10. Crack Down on Loophole Abuse
    5. Conclusions
  2. Sidebar!


When discussing housing and homelessness, we conflate a lot of concepts I feel we should disambiguate. In this section I want to discuss some of the more troubling ones.

Poverty vs Visible Poverty

Do we care that people are poor, or do we care that we see poor people? Many people conflate the two, especially when discussing encampments.

There has been lots of poverty in the region for years, but nobody cared because poor people were sleeping at Out of the Cold or crashing with friends or camping in woodlots. In my opinion poverty has become worse over the years, especially when crystal meth and fentanyl arrived on the scene in 2015 or so. In addition our housing supply has been gentrifying; many of the lowest-quality flop hotels (the Mayfair, anyone?) and rooming houses were closed, burned down, or were renovated to a standard regular people would accept. But the dam broke over the past couple of years; a lot more people camped out on the street and/or began carting their possessions in shopping carts/bike trailers, and people started encampments in highly visible places such as 100 Victoria, 150 Main St in Cambridge, and Victoria Park. Some of these encampments (in particular the Victoria Park one) are overt political actions intended to make poverty more visible. I feel others are less political protest and more attempts to build security in numbers.

Much of our reaction to these encampments has been backlash. Even the most reactionary voices pay lip service to "helping these people get back on their feet" or whatever, but you don't need to scratch too deeply to get to "I don't want to see these people around" and "these people mean I cannot enjoy the park". If visibility is our primary concern then the solution is to harass these people until they are out of sight, regardless of their wellbeing.

If poverty alleviation is our primary concern then we might still work towards eliminating encampments, but the measure of success changes from "Are these people visible?" to "Are these people in a better place than they were while living in the encampment?" Note that I am not setting the bar at "Do these people have their housing problems solved?" -- I feel that is too high a bar. But we can ask whether people are better or worse off after our interventions. Bulldozing encampments and harassing them so they camp out in more obscure locations likely leaves people worse off. The oft-suggested solution of coercing people into some hypothetical treatment programs might or might not leave people better off(but given the state of mental health treatments in this province I expect they won't be).

Addiction vs Affordability

Many people feel that encampments are filled with addicts. To some extent, they are right. But this is not the whole story. Many people in the encampments are addicts, but I would bet not all are. Many addicts have trouble finding housing because landlords presume they will be troublesome tenants. But as housing becomes more unaffordable more and more people who are not addicts will end up on the street (and I may be one of them, I write as I stuff sunflower seeds in my mouth).

I feel we should disambiguate these issues. Addiction and addiction treatment are serious concerns, but people can be housed even if they are addicts. Some of those addicts need additional supports to stay in their housing, but not all do. Meanwhile we also need housing for those who are simply priced out of the rental market, including people on disability (ODSP) and welfare (Ontario Works).

Left-wingers like to make the argument that addiction does not cause homelessness so much as homelessness causes addiction. There may be some truth to this but I am not sure it is a helpful way to frame the problem.

Homelessness vs Criminality

On the one hand, people don't like encampments (or even homeless shelters) because they are ugly. On the other hand, people associate poverty with other social problems:

Some of these issues are easily addressed. I feel the situation at 100 Victoria St is better because the Region is providing dumpsters and garbage pickup there. I feel the crimes and theft are another matter entirely. We can (and I feel, we should) make a distinction between people living someplace we don't like, and the increase in crime that results. I am especially frustrated with the situation at University Avenue, because the police know full well who is committing these crimes, and they are not being stopped, so students naturally lose faith that the city cares about their property, and opposition to the shelter (and poor people in general) grows.

I am also upset at the encampment residents for carrying out these thefts. They are not being good neighbours, and given that one reason people choose encampments is so their stuff doesn't get ripped off, it is rich that they fund their lifestyles by ripping off their neighbours.

Of course, people are not committing these thefts for no reason. They are committing these thefts because they want money, and part of the reason they want money is drugs.

I feel we can tolerate the existence of poor people living near us without condoning the theft and litter that result. Some of this involves providing services to people in encampments. Some of this involves setting standards and enforcing them. Furthermore I feel some of these standards can be set (and enforced) by people in the encampments themselves.

This raises the question of police response. If there is one thing the police are good at, it is enforcing property rights. Does arresting the perpetrators of these crimes actually do anything to help? Not in the medium term, I am thinking. But as these crimes increase the calls for police enforcement will rise, as will calls to move the poor people somewhere else.

Personally, I would love to see some of these bicycle chop shops get shut down, but that is because I am a bike zealot. If the chop shops get shut down then maybe we should arrest all the porch pirates and people breaking into cars too.

The drug policy radicals want to solve these problems by having the government pay for people's drugs, via initiatives they label "safe supply". This may in fact be a good response to this problem, in the sense that if people get their drugs for free or cheap they will be less inclined to steal stuff to pay for their habits on the black market. In fact, to some extent we do this already via methadone programs -- it would not be difficult to extend this to opiates or even stimulants.

Having said that, such an idea (paying for the drugs of addicts) is enormously unpopular politically. It plays into the idea that we are coddling addicts instead of coercing them to get "fixed". Belinda Karahalios and Adam Cooper make their reputations on such accusations. Even if you frame such programs in terms of crime reduction I don't think you get much traction here.

Dealing with psychotic outbursts is another tough issue. Should we tolerate such outbursts? As somebody who has been apprehended multiple times for being in enough distress that I disturbed the peace, the idea that we arrest our way out of outbursts makes me pretty uncomfortable. I feel there are much more effective de-escalation techniques that leave the police and prison systems out of this, but there is little funding for such (especially when police budgets eat up so much municipal revenue).

Encampments vs Affordability

I feel that the issue of housing for the very poor (people who are in shelters and encampments) is distinct from the issue of housing affordability in general. Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau care about the latter; they want lots of middle-class first-time homebuyers being able to get mortgages and build wealth. But because there are not enough sprawling suburbs for all the first-time homebuyers available, those people live in rental housing that builds the wealth of institutional investors instead. Those institutional investors buy up all the cheap housing and rent it at a markup, which pushes out those of us on lower incomes. Some of those people find other housing they can barely afford, some move in with friends or family (regardless of capacity limits), and some get pushed out to the shelter system or worse. I feel there are relationships here.

At the same time, I feel we can and should distinguish the issues faced by the dire poor from those who can afford rent, but would prefer to own housing instead. There are different approaches we can take, depending on whom we choose to prioritize.

Student Housing

Student housing is a mess all around. In Waterloo, we put in place discriminatory lodging-house separation rules, and so the Northdale landlords sold their land to developers, who tore down the WWII single-family unit housing and put up giant rental towers. Hooray for density! Too bad several of the housing management corporations that run those buildings are predatory, charging excessive (and possibly illegal) key deposit and security fees which they routinely keep once the leases are over, charging exorbitant rents, and allowing maintenance/infestation issues to fester. They know they can get away with this because (a) international students have money, (b) a small group of companies control almost all the off-campus housing supply, (c) their tenants don't know the housing rules and don't care enough to fight over four month leases.

(Might I just say that those WWII-era Northdale houses would have been great if they had been maintained better? Why can't we build modest separated housing like that anymore?)

Elsewhere in the region (especially in Doon) there are all kinds of conflicts because international students are flooding into the colleges and can't find enough housing. As this takedown of the student permanent residency pipeline documents, some students are living 15 people to a house, sleeping in shifts. The landlords probably don't care a lot so long as they can extract sufficient rent to cover the property damage, but I imagine the neighbours are not happy and the students have to deal with miserable living situations. (Followup discussion on the student scam on Reddit.)

There are some real tenants rights issues here, but nobody has a vested interest in overcoming them. It is possible that in Doon and Cambridge neighbourhood associations will pick up their pitchforks and torches to shut down these rental houses, but again this leaves the students worse off than if they did not have such housing.

The Housing Spectrum

I have written about the housing spectrum before, but I think it is worth spending a little bit of time elaborating on those thoughts. In that entry I described different gradations of housing, from best to worst:

It turns out that there are more categories that I missed:

I discussed some types of housing superior to mine, but maybe was not comprehensive there either. In approximate order of desirability, these might be:

I don't think this is a strict hierarchy. Some people might prefer a condo to owning a house because of the maintenance requirements (snow shovelling, lawn mowing, etc).

Seniors also have different categories of housing, depending on their financial circumstances and frailty:

Encampments vs Shelters

I think most middle-class people do not understand why anybody would choose to live in a tent or on the street instead of going to a shelter. Shelters are warm, dry, and sometimes have staff keeping drama in check. How could sleeping rough be better?

Having said that, there are several ways encampments are inferior to shelters:

Housing vs Supportive Housing

I feel this is another distinction that we frequently conflate. Many of the people who live in encampments (and for that matter who live in housing provided by social service agencies) are really difficult to house. Sometimes it is possible to get such people apartments, but it can be very difficult for them to keep their apartments. Such people benefit from support staff and services to help them manage. Such services are really expensive, so nobody wants to pay for them, but I am guessing they are no more expensive than sending people to jail.

Other people don't need specialized services to hold down housing. Some of those people are living in shelters; some may well be living in encampments. For these people, providing reasonable housing these people can afford is sufficient. As always there is a spectrum here, but I feel we should understand that difficult people are going to be expensive no matter what we do, and keep that budget line distinct from just providing adequate housing supply.

Incidentally, middle-class people often require supportive housing as well, but we call those "personal support workers" and "nannies" and "housekeepers", and tend to stigmatize those needs less.

Landlords vs Landlords

This is a tough one. I have a very good set of landlords. I do not begrudge them making money and/or building equity in exchange for providing me with a place to live. Many of my landlords have been okay or better.

From one perspective all landlords are immoral, because (by virtue of having enough capital to own a place) they can extract rent and build equity that would otherwise go to the renter. If we think of home ownership in terms of investment vehicles, this makes some sense, but I do not begrudge people from being landlords so long as they provide good value for money -- providing safe places to live at a reasonable price, and taking care of headaches (property taxes, repairs) that otherwise renters have to be on the hook for.

But lots of landlords are not good landlords. They want to squeeze their tenants for as much as the market will bear. They are happy to renovict existing tenants so they can charge new tenants much more money. They let repairs go unfixed because that might cut into their profits. I am not happy with these landlords, but they are rampant.

I feel that small-scale landlords are not immune from being pure rent-extractors, but I feel you are more likely to find a good landlord on the small-scale than with a larger corporation. Unfortunately, as soon as a small landlord has their first bad tenant, the compassion evaporates and the unreasonable screening/household rules proliferate.

Larger landlords tend to have rigid rules, but are also more likely to treat their tenants as interchangeable cogs that can be swapped out on a whim.

I do not have a clear sense of how to disambiguate good landlords from bad ones, and that is a real problem. Any time you try to set up legislation to punish bad landlords, the landlords claiming to be good demand loopholes, and then the bad landlords (especially the large bad landlords) exploit those loopholes. You can see this in the phenomenon of renoviction: there was a loophole (probably intended for small landlords) that said you could evict a tenant if a family member was moving into the space, or if you were doing renovations. Both of these are abused heavily -- landlords will claim that a family member is moving in, and then turn around and rent out the vacant unit at market rates. Landlords are supposed to offer you your unit after a renovation, but if they stretch out the renovation long enough then tenants just give up. These are both supposed to be rare events, and they are both abused rampantly with few (if any) consequences. It should not be up to the tenant to pay legal fees to fight these evictions, but here we are.

Similarly whenever you carve out rules to restrict foreign ownership or own too many properties or anything else, the small/good landlords will complain and get their concessions, and then large/bad landlords walk right through.


I do not feel that we can solve the housing crisis in Waterloo Region without understanding the context of the crisis here. Many aspects of the crisis are shared across the province/country/North America, but some are unique to us.

The GTA Elephant

Say that we somehow solve the housing crisis in Waterloo Region. Hooray! But if the Greater Toronto Area is still in a housing crisis, then people from the GTA will flood into our area and buy up whatever stock is available. To a large degree I feel this is already happening, and that two-way all day GO trains to and from the GTA will just make the situation worse. For that reason I don't think we can build our way out of this crisis in isolation.

Note there is a common right-wing talking point that we should not treat poor/homeless people too well because then they will flood into our area to take advantage of our kindness. For the most part I don't think this is true; it is much more expensive to move cities as a poor/homeless person because (a) you have less disposable income, and (b) you have to re-learn all of the social supports local to your area. Lots of poor people threaten to move someplace better, but in my experience not a lot of them do, and some of them that try end up moving back.

In contrast, middle-class people have cars and disposable income and do not depend on charities and social services to the extent that poor people do. If they are willing to deal with the commute back to the GTA, there is little stopping them from moving to Waterloo Region (or Tavistock, or Paris, or any other town near a 400-series highway) and living the suburban dream there. Middle-class people tend to have some family ties, but those are not so strong that it prohibits them from moving. So I think middle-class people flooding into Waterloo Region is more of a threat than an influx of the poor.

Government Jurisdiction

Insert GIF of Spider-man clones pointing at each other here.

For now, we are a two-tier municipality. The Ford government thinks this is a problem (which is why it is removing planning responsibilities from the Regional level) but I do not feel this is a major hindrance in preventing housing from being built. However, tensions between the province and the municipalities are high. Municipalities don't have the money to build social housing, so they point at the provincial (and to some extent the federal) government to fund their plans, and the provincial/federal governments want to download those responsibilities (without associated funding) to the municipalities. So nothing gets built.

The Countryside Line

As I have said many times, I am a one-issue voter, but with the changes from the Ford government I am more convinced than ever that the countryside line is dead. I want lots of housing and less urban sprawl; the Ford government is happy with sprawl. It has learned that it cannot attack the Greenbelt directly (update: oops), but the Countryside line is not part of the Greenbelt. By devolving planning responsibilities to the area municipalities, the provincial government has made breaching the Countryside line much easier; developers just have to attack the weakest municipality (Cambridge, maybe? North Dumfries?) and the whole initiative crumbles. I am very angry about this.

There is no question that maintaining the Countryside line makes building enough housing difficult, because greenfields don't come with enough NIMBY pressure to matter. I continue to believe that we could (and should!) do enough development within the Countryside line to get a lot of housing built. Of course, the kinds of housing that are planned within the Countryside line now are not helping -- Southwest Kitchener is full of awful suburban "grocery-anchored" subdivisions that are just making the problem worse.

Nonetheless: if we want to hold to the Countryside line the best we can, then our approach to dealing with the housing crisis is significantly different than if we choose to sprawl.


NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard people) ruin everything, and they are everywhere. I understand that people do not like towers going up in their neighbourhoods. I understand that shadows can be a big deal. I understand that homeowners everywhere obsess about traffic and parking with increased density. On the whole, I don't care. I am happy to work with neighbourhood associations to increase density while mitigating the worst consequences, but I strongly disagree with "preserving neighbourhood character" and I strongly feel that when the tradeoff is between increased density or sprawling into the countryside, I choose increased density. The influx of towers has certainly changed the Kitchener skyline, but I would not say it has ruined it.

Here is a bold claim: few (if any) homeowners have had their property values go down as a result of density. In the last five years house prices have skyrocketed much faster than inflation; any complaint about "loss of property values" is about relative value, not absolute value. Furthermore, if Waterloo Region is building fewer single detached homes then the value of the existing detached homes is just going to go up further. NIMBYs might have complaints, but "lost property values" should not be among them.

This is not to say I love density. I don't particularly want to live in a tower, and I say upfront that I am a hypocrite about this. I still prefer having farmland and rural areas nearby.

The trouble with NIMBYs is that they are vocal and they vote, which means municipal councils cower before them, which means we get more sprawl.

There is example after example of this. Here are a few:

Is it any wonder that developers would prefer to develop in greenfields? Is it any surprise that Doug Ford and Steve Clark are happy to let them?

Financialization and REITs

People on the left talk a lot about the "financialization of housing" these days. What they mean is that housing serves two purposes: they are places to live, and they are investments. They are pretty excellent investments because people want places to live and will pay a lot of money for them.

When you own multiple houses, then you can leverage their value to purchase additional houses. In this way individuals and organizations that own many houses can afford to buy many more. They can also outbid people looking for houses in which to live, because they can typically leverage more capital than first-time home buyers.

"REIT" stands for "Real Estate Investment Trust". They are the latest boogeyman for the activist left. They are corporations that buy up large numbers of housing units and then rent them out at a nice profit. As usual, pension funds (the darlings of the activist left) are often the big institutional investors powering REITs.

There is little question in my mind that REITs hurt home ownership. They probably hurt affordability: so long as they can find a sucker willing to pay the cost of a mortgage plus their profit, they can outbid most individual home purchasers. On the other hand, they don't hurt the housing supply directly. In fact, condo developers are halting projects because institutional developers are not prepurchasing condos at the rate they once did. This is a deeply upsetting story. It implies either that there is not enough demand from regular people seeking housing to buy these units, or that condo developers are spoiled by the inflated prices REITs and other institutional developers were willing to pay, and now are throwing a tantrum because their housing developments are not affordable. Nonetheless, when those REITs were willing to pay those inflated prices, housing was getting built; now less housing is getting built.

The problem with REITs buying up housing and then renting it out is that rental rates skyrocket, and the REITs get all of the financial benefit of the housing (building equity) while the renters get a roof over their heads at an inflated price as compared to paying the mortgages themselves. For some renters this is a good deal; for many I expect it is not.

Honestly, I feel that the narrative that one builds wealth by owning a house is deeply upsetting. It may be true, but it is awful, because it justifies the urban sprawl.


AirBNB and its imitators may be among the most evil companies in existence. AirBNB started out as a good idea: people who had extra rooms in their houses could list them and rent them out. It quickly turned into a free-for-all, where people with lots of money bought as many properties as they could, evicted the tenants and made money through short term rentals. Unlike REITs, this really does shrink the housing supply -- and because these investors often bought up the cheapest properties, it hurt poorer would-be homeowners the most.

I do not have many positive things to say about AirBNB. One cannot provide any kind of affordable ownership now without the AirBNB vultures swooping in to buy as much as they can, and I think that is awful. I had hoped that the AirBNB vultures would go bankrupt during the pandemic, but I don't think this has happened.

Having said that, it is not clear to me the degree to which AirBNB has eaten up the affordable housing supply. I have anecdotes, but not data. (I hope the data exists, and somebody could point me to it.)


It is worth noting that there is one source of virtually unlimited housing that the taxpayer is willing to foot the bill for: prison. When people go to jail they get a roof over their heads and some (pretty substandard) meals paid for by taxpayers.

It is also the case that prisons are among the most expensive ways to house people, but that does not determine people from proposing it as a solution. As one delightful Redditor put it:

Where is your compassion for the people who have worked hard to make this the proud community it is? What is the end game / benefit of making things easier on them? They can’t even get their own lives together, never mind agree to a way forward as a group. Enforce the law and protect our homes. These folks are overwhel mingly users. Not just of drugs but if the people and community around them. Shelter or treatment otherwise, jail.

In other words: coerce homeless people into treatment, or house them in jail. This is a common refrain from those sick of the encampments.

Some people, like Cory Doctorow, feel that this use of the prison system for housing (and cheap labour!) is deliberate. I could believe this, but I still feel that imprisoning people for the crime of being homeless is a bad, expensive solution. Unfortunately, it may be the only one taxpayers are willing to pay for.


A Better Tent City

Boy howdy did municipal election candidates love bringing up A Better Tent City as a solution to homelessness. This is because the idea is novel and appears to be working okay. Nadine Green has done a good job of building her community, and we all think tiny houses are cool.

Unfortunately, A Better Tent City is not a real solution to homelessness or the housing crisis. It is not the worst solution, but it comes with many caveats and limitations:

Don't get me wrong: a cabin like this (with cooking and shower facilities) would be my dream home. I also admire many aspects of the project -- especially those where the residents participate in maintaining the site. But unless somebody shows me how this can be funded and scaled, it is not a great solution.

Instead of talking about A Better Tent City exclusively, why not bring up SHOW Waterloo? It is similar to A Better Tent City in that it houses very vulnerable people, but it does so in a more sustainable way:

I was at the cult when the first SHOW building was announced, and it seemed like a big deal to me. It still seems like a big deal, but it goes under the radar because it is quiet and (as far as I know) low drama. As far as I know it does not rely upon heroic personalities in order to exist and sustain itself, and it is fairly well-integrated into the community.

I don't want to bash A Better Tent City outright. I think it teaches us some important lessons about addressing housing and homelessness:

Managed Encampments

The managed encampments are a band-aid solution to the semi-managed encampments at 100 Victoria in Kitchener and 150 Main St in Cambridge, but they don't help much. (The encampment on Roos Island is its own beast, because it is a political protest.) Already the encampment at 100 Victoria has many of the amenities of a managed encampment -- garbage pickup, access to washrooms (and showers?), wraparound supports -- so this new set of encampments will be much the same but (a) be located far away, and (b) come with more rules.

The Region of Waterloo is putting a lot of emphasis on its survey that claimed residents would be willing to move far away if amenities were provided for them. I think in practice not so many people will actually be willing to move.

Managed encampments are all well and good, but what does that mean for the unmanaged encampments? Part of the reason people live in unmanaged encampments is because they have more autonomy. What happens when the bureaucratic Region imposes its rules? Some people will abide by those rules and the rest will leave. Where will they go? Will the Region adopt a policy of bulldozing all unmanaged encampments once the managed encampments are set up?

Also: we really don't want encampments (managed or not) in the Region. We especially don't want them in parks and common areas intended for other uses. But if we really don't want encampments then we need to spend money, because lots of people in these encampments are among the most difficult to house, and housing them effectively takes lots of money.

Municipalities Building All the Social Housing

The reason we need market capitalism is because centralized governments undersupply the market. This is especially true for expensive goods that benefit the poor. (There is a reason ODSP and Ontario Works rates are so low.) Nobody wants to pay taxes, and without taxes governments have a difficult time paying for services.

As it turns out, the Region of Waterloo does manage some social housing. From my limited experience, the units seem adequate. However, as is common when low-income people are housed together, there can be lots of drama from the neighbours.

My primary concern here is undersupply -- where does the money come from to build and maintain these units? The Region published a five year update to its Homelessness and Housing Plan. (There are some annual updates published on the Region site too.

Apparently most of the funding for the Region's social housing comes via provincial and federal grant (Section 2.2.1). Furthermore, it appears that when mortgages on community-based housing stock is paid off, the Region has no authority to maintain these spaces as affordable (Section 4.7). (I think this is different housing stock than that operated by the Region directly.)

Maybe governments can build some social housing, but it does not seem appropriate to me that it builds all the social housing. Third-party nonprofits have a role to play here, but I am surprised that for-profit enterprises cannot profitably step into this niche. Maybe it is just easier to build houses for high-income tenants than those who need the housing the most?

Defanging Conservation Authorities

Ugh. The provincial government has defanged conservation authorities at least twice:

In 2020 the government passed Bill 229, which stopped Conservation Authorities from vetoing municipal plans to develop on wetlands. It also handed more power to the provincial housing minister to override local decisions.

The day after the election the government introduced Bill 23, which further strips conservation authority powers, and prevents municipalities from entering into consulting contracts with them.

Apparently the government thinks that conservation authorities should be limited to advising (but not mandating) flood protections. Otherwise the government thinks the conservation authorities should have no power. But the conservation authorities have grown from mere floodwater protection to thinking about watersheds as a whole, and in my opinion this is necessary work.

Of course, as a single-issue voter I would say that. Ford has to appease his developer friends, and since conservation authorities were getting in the way of building on watersheds and floodplains, they had to go.

Let's pretend the conservation authorities still have enough power to prevent development where there are flood risks. If they cannot stop development on aquifer recharge areas, then we have groundwater troubles -- either because there is not enough groundwater to service the community, or because that groundwater becomes contaminated with road salt and who knows what else. This is a real issue, but the provincial government does not care.

Defanging Regional Government

I am furious about this. Bill 23 redesignates the Region of Waterloo (and several other upper-tier municipalities) as regional governments "without planning authority". It is not even clear what this means, other than a bunch of responsibilities (certainly zoning, but maybe other important things like transit?) are downloaded to the three cities and four townships.

This is a disaster. Under the guise of eliminating red tape, the provincial government is foisting a lot of responsibilities onto smaller municipalities that do not have the staff and resources to fight developers that want to sprawl. I guess that gets more suburbs built, but suburbs are the lowest-density housing.

It is absolutely clear to me that this move is intended to destroy the greenbelt and the Countryside Line. If nothing else it means chaos, and a lot of work that went into containing sprawl in this region is in total jeopardy.

Time-limited Inclusionary Zoning

Another disaster in Bill 23 is the cap on inclusionary zoning. "Inclusionary Zoning" means that some units in for-profit housing are designated as "affordable". The provincial government has put strict caps on this: a maximum of 5% of the units in any development may be designated as affordable, and they are only allowed to be affordable for 25 years.

The stated intention behind this is to give developers certainty about the rules when they decide to build units. In practice this means that (in addition to everything else) municipalities can no longer leverage the private market to solve the affordability crisis.

I could maybe live with the 5% cap, but I am furious at the 25 year time limit. Is somebody thinking that our affordable housing crisis is going to be solved in 25 years?

Furthermore the standard trick these days is for developers to designate some units as affordable, and then let building superintendents to live there on reduced rent, as opposed to broader members of the community. That does not help.

This is yet another handout to developers looking to maximize their profits at the expense of the commons.

Moving the Goalposts

The latest NIMBY tactic is to complain about buildings because they are not the right kind of buildings. They hate condo towers full of 1-bedroom apartments. Instead they demand affordable units! 3-bedroom units for families! It is absolutely unacceptable to build housing unless it is exactly the kind of housing they want. Again, I see the rationales behind these complaints, but I am skeptical that they are just smokescreens because NIMBY's don't want development. (Of course, no NIMBY self-identifies as such. They all say they are in favour of development, so long as it is the "right" development, which usually means "not much development at all.")

I agree that we need more diversity in housing, and that it would be good to see more 2- and 3-bedroom affordable apartments (and condos!). I disagree that halting development until developers construct such buildings is a good way to go, if for no other reason than if developers did give into such demands, the NIMBYs would find some other rationalization for opposing development.


The latest alt-right talking point is to say that we cannot solve the housing crisis because Trudeau is allowing 500k immigrants per year into the country, and therefore we won't be able to provide enough housing stock to keep up. This is dangerous because there it sounds plausible. But really it is a thin veil for xenophobia: scratch beneath the surface and you will quickly see that those promoting this argument have lots and lots of other reasons they don't want immigrants in Canada.

Should we be taking local capacity into account when deciding immigration targets? Sure, I guess. But overall immigrants add lots more to the economy than they take away -- that's the Ponzi scheme Canada relies upon to maintain its workforce in the face of an aging and lazy population. It is plausible that the influx of immigrants will lead to more housing getting built faster, not less.


Build Baby Build

On the whole, I am okay with building a lot more housing, even if it is not the kind of housing I want. (I draw the line at sprawling into rural areas, but I guess even that is housing.)

The example that comes to mind are the many student towers in the Northdale neighbourhood. This is not good housing (and apparently it is now infested with vermin), and it may well have been built with money from Chinese investors who do not care one bit for the wellbeing of its tenants, but this housing exists, and it has made a difference. For a few years rental prices in the area were remarkably stable even as housing prices soared. I feel (but do not know) that the influx of towers helped with that.

Maybe it is unreasonable for me to oppose sprawl and subdivisions. Certainly Doug Ford and Steve Clark and their developer buddies think so. But I am certainly not opposed to densifying within urban boundaries, regardless of what it does to "neighbourhood character". Want to tear down my house and put up a 50 storey condo? That is bad for me personally, but I say that we should go for it.

Along the same lines, I think height and density and parking requirements are far too rigid. It should be easy for developers to build:

than it is now. It should also be trivial for people to add basement apartments and granny suites to their existing properties. Bill 23 attempts to address this to a small degree (allowing three units of housing on every single family dwelling lot) but it does not go far enough.


Single-residency occupancy rooms are not fantastic housing, but they are housing and they can be managed efficiently by social service agencies. It should be easier for housing providers to build them. I do not think the standard for poor-person housing needs to be a one-bedroom apartment. A room with a lock and shared bathroom/kitchen/laundry is good enough for many people, and I am certain that such housing can be built more cheaply than the one-bedroom units the housing providers insist upon.

Instead of (or in addition to) the tiny homes at A Better Tent City, we should be building more housing along the model of SHOW. All things considered I would probably prefer to live in a shack than in an apartment building, but either is preferable to living in a tent or in shelter spaces.

Informal Arrangements

When I first moved to Kitchener-Waterloo for grad school, there was apparently a housing shortage for students. What did the municipalities do? Did they throw up their hands and despair? No. They appealed to people with spare bedrooms to rent out their spaces to students, which is how I got my first (and to date, probably my best) living space in the area.

Governments put in rules to ensure some minimum standard across all housing. I can see the appeal of that, and given that my first room in KW was without heat for multiple weeks one winter, I can see that the intentions for minimum standards are good. But these rules mean that it is expensive and bureaucratic for people to rent out existing surplus space they already have, and I oppose that. I think we could make a big dent in the housing crisis if more people were willing to share space. (For the record: if given the choice between reasonable rent and not having heat for multiple weeks in the winter and being unable to afford rent, I choose the former.)

Of course, AirBNB and other short-term rentals have thrown a wrench into this. Instead of renting spaces to students or low income tenants, people now rent surplus space as expensive short-term rentals. This means tenants pay more per diem and have fewer rights, which is exactly what landlords want.

My other complaint is that licensed spaces are supposed to specify a minimum standard, and they end up specifying exactly the standard that landords are willing to abide by. If something is not mandated then these landlords will not provide it, and they will use every trick they can (such as the maximum-allowed rent increase) to gouge tenants as much as they can. This certainly can be the case in informal arrangements too, but in my experience it frequently isn't -- instead the landlord and tenant can negotiate to mutual benefit.

If we mandate that every living space has to be licensed "for safety" then we end up with a bifurcation between people who are living in those licensed spaces, and other people who have no good place to live and thus end up in much worse unlicensed encampments. There is some tradeoff here, and I think we should be much more flexible for those who are willing to offer living spaces on their property in good faith.

Inclusionary Zoning

I do not think that inclusionary zoning solves all problems, but I think it can be a useful tool in making sure that some small fraction of the housing that gets built is affordable. Bill 23 sets stupid maximum limits on the fraction of housing that can be designated as inclusionary? Fine. Have the municipalities pass laws to say that every development (including suburbs!) needs to designate 5% as deeply affordable for at least 25 years.

Progressive Transfer Taxes

I think it is justifiable to think that a family should be able to own a property. I do not think it is justifiable to think that a family is entitled to own 15 properties, 13 of which are income-generating investments. As the number of properties somebody owns increases, the taxes should increase accordingly. Maybe those are land transfer taxes. Maybe those are property taxes. But there should be some disincentive on buying up big blocks of homes to generate income.

This is easier said than done. First of all, what should non-profits who want to manage a lot of affordable housing do? If you give them a loophole then the for-profit entities will exploit it. If you say that an individual may own at most one home without onerous taxes then suddenly spouses and cousins and children will mysteriously own homes too. (We can see this already with respect to renoviction: the landlord claims "a family member" will move in, and then circumstances mysteriously change as soon as the tenant is evicted.)

I think we have to decide whether it is acceptable for large entities to own many many units as investment vehicles, or whether we want as many individuals as possible owning their houses. We know that when large entities own many houses then they can outcompete individuals in bidding wars. On the other hand, when large entities lose interest in housing then less housing gets built. This is a real problem. My feeling is that some of the blame here lies with developers: they are not building the kind of housing that people actually want, but the kinds of housing that will maximize their profits.

Blind Bidding

Blind bidding drives up the cost of housing tremendously. I am in favour of scrapping it, but I do not understand the issue well enough to say what the implications of doing that would be.

Granny Flats, Duplexing, etc

I agree with the Bill 23 mandate that any single-family home can have up to two more units added without additional hassle, but I do not think that limit is high enough.

I think duplexing is a partial solution to the housing problem, but having a higher-density stacked townhouse or a rooming house where there would otherwise be a single detached unit helps more.

This kind of gentle densification is more acceptable to NIMBYs than apartment buildings, but it does not help enough.

I do feel that tiny homes and granny flats should be easier to build and service. There was an enormous hassle when The Working Centre was trying to build its two "bunkie" homes next to St John's Kitchen. I hope it is less hassle now.

Sustainable Municipal Funding

Sure. Everybody wants funding. Where does it come from?

My feeling is that municipalities do not have enough options for raising revenue. I think they should be allowed to add to the sales tax, but this is not a complete solution either. Adding 2% to the HST in Waterloo Region would raise tens of millions of dollars to the Region, but that is not nearly enough to make a dent in the revenue problems faced by municipalities.

We all know that property taxes are regressive, and increasing those taxes is politicially infeasible because senior activists trot out old people who are barely holding onto their homes every time we try. Could the municipalities piggy-back on income taxes? That would be phenomenally unpopular and difficult to administer (say you live in Toronto and work in Kitchener. Who gets the municipal share of income tax?) but maybe it is something we need to consider.

Honestly I do not know how we fund the infrastructure and housing needs we have. I think we are all in deep, deep trouble. We have been spending beyond our means and now the bills are coming due.

Rent controls?

I am enough of a right-winger to believe the argument that rent controls are bad because they inhibit building housing supply. On the other hand, rent controls are the only reason many people in Ontario have homes at all. If you rent a unit built before 2018, there are mandated limits as to the amount your rent can increase each year. Landlords hate those limits, which is why they use renovictions to kick tenants out as quickly as possible, jacking up the rent as soon as somebody new moves in. But it is hard to argue that we would be better off without those limits.

The Ford government got rid of those rent controls for units built after 2018, and sure enough if you live in one of those buildings your rent can go up arbitrarily each year. This means that even if there is lots more housing built, it won't be affordable.

Maybe this is okay, but if you can kneecap inclusionary zoning by restricting it to 25 years why can't this happen for the rent control rule as well? After 10 or 15 years rent control should kick in for the unit.

For units built before 2018, we have rent control while we live in the unit, but there is no rent control between occupancies. That is why we have so many renovictions, and why landlords want to turn over their tenants as quickly as possible. There is a mismatch here.

Crack Down on Loophole Abuse

If somebody says they want to evict a tenant because a family member is going to move in, then a family member should move in for a good length of time (say, at least a year). If somebody is abusing that rule and a family member does not in fact move in (and is mysteriously living in two places at once, or plans are "cancelled" and the unit is offered for rent again) then there should be very harsh penalties to the landlord that should go directly to the displaced tenant. Maybe the landlord has to pay a year's worth of rent to the tenant. Maybe the landlord has to offer the unit for the same price as the tenant paid. There are possible punishments.

There are a lot of loopholes we could close in this way. If a landlord wants to renovate a house, then (for landlords of a certain size) the landlord should provide another unit for the same quality and cost to the affected tenant. Of course, landlords will abuse this too (somebody being renovicted in Mississauga will be offered a unit in Orangeville) but the existing rule that a tenant has to be offered their unit back eventually is not good enough.

Of course, this is wishful thinking. Nobody is going to enforce these rules against landlords, because landlords have power and tenants do not. In principle tenants can appeal to the Landlord Tenant Board, but that is backlogged and they are prioritizing rent increase requests anyways. It is pretty clear whose side the government is on.

If you enforce these rules then the landlord advocacy groups will drag out all kinds of sob stories about small-scale landlords losing their savings. Then they will turn around and exploit the carved out exceptions. This is not okay.


We're in a lot of trouble.

With Bill 23 the government is trying to do something. I happen to strongly disagree with their approach, and I am suspicious of the reasons they are taking this approach cough cough developers. But I do not have much confidence that the provincial government's policies will fix the housing crisis, and they certainly won't fix the affordable housing crisis -- in fact, with a few exceptions for clearly-designated nonprofits, they will do the opposite.

Even if these policies were somehow the right ones, building housing takes time, and we have a lot of precariously-housed people now.