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MRC getting serious about affordable housing

November 1st,2023 | Opinion

Finally, a promising housing strategy. 

The MRC des Collines’ new housing strategy, unveiled earlier this summer, has the potential to ease the crunch on the region’s housing strategy by targeting developers, home flippers and NIMBYers from killing affordable housing projects on the table. 

The strategy boasts some 32 measures for the region’s six municipalities to start implementing: things like financial incentives for developers and easing of regulations, to penalties to home flippers who buy homes and resell them within a year of the purchase date. 

We’ve heard municipalities talk about encouraging developers to set aside a certain amount of units for affordable housing, but there seems to be no enforcement or follow-up to ensure this happens. The MRC strategy will offer financial incentives or land transfers to entice developers to do this. 

Will it work? Time will only tell, but what the MRC strategy has going for it is that it hits developers where it counts: in the wallet. The strategy offers several financial incentives for developers to build affordable community housing: exemptions or reductions of development fees; building permit costs; land transfer taxes; and financial assistance in the form of property tax credits, subsidies and loans. 

The strategy also offers first-time home buyers credit for affordable housing projects and a rent increase freeze or “flattening according to the Consumer Price Index or affordability threshold.”

The strategy also targets home flippers who come in, buy homes low and then resell at a higher price. Those who do this and sell a house less than a year after they purchase it will be subjected to additional tax penalties. 

A strong point of the strategy is preventing community pushback for affordable housing projects. The strategy quotes the “not-in-my-backyard” or NIMBY attitude by easing or, in some cases, exempting referendum approval processes and keeping community opinions out of the debate over where social housing should be built. This measure is “reinforcing the acceptability, even desirability,” of affordable, social housing projects  “to ensure that the common interest prevails over the particular,” the strategy notes. 

Where the strategy falls short, though, is on short-term rentals. There is nothing in the strategy to freeze or ban short-term rentals in the region — an issue that is adding fuel to the fire, which is burning up rentals across the country. 

According to a 2020 study from Carleton University senior research fellow Steve Pomeroy, Canada lost 322,600 private rental units with monthly rent below $750. This number is considered affordable to those earning less than $30,000 a year. In 2021, another 230,000 low-rent units were taken off the market. These numbers show a decline in unsubsidized rental housing of six per cent over 10 years. 

The MRC housing strategy is a really good start, and it looks promising. It will take time, but at least the MRC is getting serious about the housing crisis. 

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