Roundup: Housing Affordability and Smart Growth

There was a brief flurry of newspaper pieces early this year raising fears that Ontario’s plans for smart growth will damage the affordability of home ownership. In the Globe and Mail, Tom Curtis suggested that the Greenbelt is threatening social equity by increasing housing prices in the Greater Toronto Area. Locally, The Record’s editorial board expressed the same concern, and encouraged the Region of Waterloo to consider compromising its policies that focus more growth in accessible core areas.

These pieces suggest that housing affordability and smart growth are opposed: that our only chance for equitable and affordable housing is to compromise our farmland, our environment, and our plans for sustainable and affordable growth. Fortunately, informed and articulate voices have been explaining that this isn’t the case.

First, Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, wrote a compelling piece in the Globe and Mail, pointing out that housing prices have gone up just as much in areas without greenbelts as in those with them, and that these smart growth policies are the affordable and responsible option for the long term.

More recently, several esteemed experts at the University of Waterloo, York University, and the University of Toronto wrote an extensive piece addressing questions of the housing market and smart growth. They point out that there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of new housing, and that new housing has a very small impact on prices at a given time. High prices are due to demand in accessible and central areas, and they argue that we need to consider the cost of transportation when looking at housing affordability.

We at Smart Growth Waterloo Region also contributed a letter to the editor, arguing that we need to focus on real solutions to protect housing affordability and choice, since sprawl won’t keep housing affordable.

While it’s unfortunate that some are drawing the wrong conclusions about the causes of increasing housing prices, we’re grateful that so many have taken the opportunity to so thoughtfully address these misperceptions about smart growth.

This recent debate has also drawn the attention of some insightful folks in the media. Michael John McGrath at The Agenda Blog has written a strong overview piece about the Greenbelt and housing prices. Hopefully these questions are drawing the attention of more and more members of our communities to the importance of forward-thinking policies on growth.