In the middleof a national housing crisis where home ownership is becoming increasingly difficult for most people, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo is leading Build Now Waterloo, a community initiative launched in July 2023. The initiative aims to offer a significant amount of more accessible housing options for the Waterloo Region residents.
“The idea isn’t complicated. It is just big,” Philip Mills, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Waterloo, said.
“Our attempt is to find a scalable solution to attainable housing, to get something big enough to make a sizable impact on the market, on housing in our region, for folks who have been unable to get into housing,” he said.
The goal is to build 10,000 homes in Waterloo Region by 2030—7,000 for owners and 3,000 affordable rental properties, at half the price of market value. The new homes will consist of four to six storey apartment buildings, with unit sizes ranging from one to three bedrooms. The program will ensure all the new homes go to people who need a place to live, and none will end up as investment properties, Build Now Waterloo said in a press release.
The project involves a wide range of actors, including local developers, non-profits organizations, charities, home builders, construction association members, like Union Co-operative, HIP Developments, Grand Valley Construction Association, CityBuild Partnerships, Maxwell Building Consultants Ltd., and multiple levels of government.
“Most of our partners, have been here a long time, they have raised their families and have been here a long time. They want a Waterloo Region that works. Everybody wants to live in a good city, in a great community.” Mills said.
Homes will be built on undeveloped land earmarked for housing construction and development charges will be waived, which was in the province’s Bill 23 legislation.
Home builders will also eliminate pricing mark-ups beyond that which allows them to build new housing at cost.
“We still building out those partnerships. We are looking for land. And we are looking for more people who can work with us, developers, trades and non-profit organizations. Everybody who can bring something to the table, when an entire community pulls together, anything is possible,” Mills said.
This initiative is a modernization of Canada’s wartime housing program, when the country faced a housing crunch during and following World War II.
“The lesson was that collaboration matters. The ability to quickly build housing helped preserve social cohesion and launch a postwar economic boom”, Mills said.
Mills said that the support of many sectors of the community is important to make a transformative project successful—the Build Now Waterloo project has support from a whole community.
“A housing solution is not something that one organization can do on its own, ” Mills said.
“We have got the support from health care, finance, education, and all sorts of businesses that understand that there is a big labor shortage. Our strength is that we have got a whole community behind us, making this go for the betterment of the community.”
Where the province has vision, builders have skills, and labour and local not-for-profits and charities have experience with ensuring affordable rent, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo brings experience in governing affordable housing projects.