The cost of owning and renting property in the Waterloo Region has drastically increased over the past decade and has outpaced the growth of most incomes, which has resulted in affordability challenges for many Waterloo households and residents. Reduced affordability has also impacted the rise in regional homelessness, and the housing waitlist for many residents is growing longer and longer.
According to Statistics Canada in 2016, almost one in four households in Waterloo live in unaffordable housing. Those groups and populations affected most by this housing crisis include Indigenous peoples, immigrants to Canada, single-parent households, elderly persons, and those experiencing mental health challenges and/or addictions.
To address the situation, the City of Waterloo is developing an Affordable Housing Strategy, which they announced in early 2021. The strategy aims to identify any actions that can be taken by the City of Waterloo to protect existing affordable housing stock and increase the amount of new and affordable housing. These approaches will also address any challenges for those in low to moderate income households, as well as options to ensure a viable supply of housing types, sizes and tenures.
“The strategy is intended to be a broad policy document that’s going to identify actions that the City can take to either increase the amount of affordable housing or retain existing affordable housing protected from loss,” Michelle Lee, the City of Waterloo’s senior policy planner of growth management, said.
The strategy contains five phases: In phase one, the City of Waterloo will collect feedback from various groups about the type and quantity of housing that is needed.
In March, the City hosted a discussion forum on Research and Innovation in Affordable Housing in the Region, which was moderated by Lee. Researchers from the UW were invited to share their take on what municipalities can do to address problems in affordable housing.
“The academic world, I think, provides a really good starting point to help us understand what the underlying causes are that are really driving this problem, and what some of our leveled approaches could be to address those problems,” Lee said.
In addition to the Affordable Housing Strategy, the City of Waterloo is also developing an Affordable Housing Grant Program, which was created for not-for-profit corporations to provide new affordable housing units in the city.
The program will help guide the allocation of available funding and provide financial support to developments, which will provide affordable housing. The City of Waterloo is looking for community engagement feedback to help determine the parameters of the Affordable Housing Grant Program for not-for-profit corporations.
“Right now we’re undertaking community and stakeholder engagement to help us create the parameters and eligibility requirements for that program, and to understand what [the] preferences are,” Tanja Curic, senior policy planner in the Growth Management Division at the City of Waterloo, said.
Waterloo residents are invited to provide feedback on the preliminary findings of the research in phase one in Winter/Spring 2021. Residents can also now leave comments, ideas and feedback about affordable housing on the City of Waterloo website.
“The City of Waterloo council [is] very enthusiastic about the development of more affordable housing in the city, and they’ve indicated to staff that they want us to be bold,” Lee said. “We are really looking at opportunities and solutions across the board from financial opportunities or incentives, to planning incentives, to all sorts of tools that will hopefully help improve the affordable housing situation.”