In honour of National Housing Day, I’m live blogging from the National Housing Conference in Ottawa. One year after the adoption of the country’s first National Housing Strategy, CMHC is hosting housing experts from around the world on topics as diverse as social inequality and innovative financing tools.

Yesterday’s keynote speaker was architect Douglas Cardinal, who spoke about the different worldview between Indigenous and settler cultures. He gave examples of his engagement with communities, learning from their cultural practices and integrating their daily routines into his designs. There was a very interesting plenary session on the increasing commodification of the housing market with Manuel Aalbers (KU Leuven), Michael Oxley (Cambridge University), Leilani Farha (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing), Paul Kershaw (UBC), Susanne Soederberg (Queens), and CMHC President/CEO Evan Siddall. In a session on financial tools, presenters discussed energy-efficient mortgages and guidelines on energy efficiency and enforcement tools for rental buildings in the European Union. A session on alternative housing models featured a mixed-income cooperative model from Winnipeg (Blair Hamilton, Co-operative Housing Federation), tenancy in common ownership from San Francisco (Rosemarie MacGuinness, Sirkin Law), community micro-investments in local businesses from Portland (John Haines, Community Investment Trust), and fractional property investment from Australia (Sibel Buyukbaykal, Brick X).

Today’s keynote is Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford. The UK is now the country with highest income inequality in Europe. He commented that in countries where inequality is considered a real issue, like Norway, they’re trying hard to reduce it–in the UK and the US governments prioritized social inequality in the 1950s up until the early 1980s, but now they blame poor families for not trying hard enough. Since 2004, families having to live in the private rental market, where they pay exorbitant rents and can be evicted with only two months notice, have increased dramatically–eviction from private rental units is the most rapidly increasing reason for homelessness. However, income inequality has peaked in all OECD countries. Dorling concluded by saying that after the Grenfell Tower fire, housing has become central to UK politics. He suggested looking at second, third, or fourth homes that are empty and what is done about this in other countries like the Netherlands and Austria (e.g. increased property taxes, empty home taxes); deciding that everyone would pay 30% or lower for their housing by a certain year and then understanding what targets have to be met each year to achieve that; inspecting properties and allowing the state to take them over if they are not well maintained; allowing tenants to report poorly maintained properties and allow them to be taken over by the local housing authority.

The keynote plenary session today featured bankers from the Bank of Canada (Carolyn Wilkins), Reserve Bank of Australia (Carl Schwartz), Finansinspktionen (Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority) (Erik Thedeen), and the Central Bank of Ireland (Roberrt Kelly). In Canada, mortgage rules have been tightened since 2016 and the Bank of Canada raised interest rates, decreasing vulnerability among owner households with new mortgages (those who had borrowed up to 450% of their incomes). In Sweden, strong economic growth has contributed to rising housing costs since 2012. They introduced a loan to value cap and an increase in percent amortization for the loan to income ratio, and have seen a decrease in those vulnerable owner households. Australia introduced investor lending restrictions as well. In Ireland they increased the downpayment amounts to 10%  for first time buyers and capped mortgages at 3.5 times their income; for second and subsequent buyers it was 20% deposit and the same mortgage cap. This helped stabilize the situation, but force first-time buyers to spend longer saving their downpayment, which will maintain pressure on rental housing.

In a session on focused on rental housing, Marika Albert (BC Non-Profit Housing Association) discussed the Canadian Rental Housing Index they created with partners across the country, using data from the 2016 long-form Census. According to Catherine Leviten-Reid (Cape Breton University), Cape Breton Regional Municipality conducted a study on their own, as the secondary rental housing market is not captured by the CMHC Rental Housing reports. They found that 43% of rentals and most new construction is in the secondary market, and that one and two bedroom units are more expensive than purpose-built rental units–three quarters of the secondary market units did not include all utilities. Just over a third of secondary market units were marketed towards seniors, and only 8% towards professionals. Nathanel Lauster (UBC) discussed the growth in condominiums as investment-rental opportunities, but contributes to more fragile tenancies as landlords can more easily claim the property for their own use. Rents are also more expensive than for purpose-built rentals, rented condo units have a higher turnover, and the typical households are couples rather than single parents or two parents with children. Jacob Cosman (Johns Hopkins University) discussed the declining rate of new housing construction in the US since the recession, and how in most cities it’s one or two companies that are building the majority of new units. There are fewer units built in general, less supply in the pipeline, and higher price volatility because of the monopoly. He hasn’t seen this same pattern in Canada as we didn’t see a major decrease in construction after the US housing market collapsed.

Our panel on smart growth: Stu Niebergall (Regina Home Builders Association), Oualid Moussouni (University of Quebec at Montreal), me, Cheryll Case (CP Planning), and Sean Gadon (City of Toronto)

We had an interesting update from Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Status of Women, on the role that women will be playing in the new National Housing Strategy. A Pan-Canadian Symposium on Women’s Housing was held with a range of women across the country directly impacted by women’s housing and homelessness. They produced six calls to action including guaranteed annual income, including women with lived experience in policy development and roundtables, north and Inuit housing, transparency with the National Housing Strategy and National Poverty Strategy, and support for a symposium next year. CMHC President Evan Siddall agreed to many of these, and CMHC will be publishing the report from the symposium within a few weeks.

The final plenary session looked at the impact of private capital on social outcomes. Nancy Neamtan (Territoires innovants en économie sociale et solidaire) forcused on solidarity finance: tools, institutions, actors that are designed for collective initiatives and enterprises (non-profits and co-ops), which are co-built with community actors. In Québec, there has been a 32% growth in this type of financing from 2013-2016. Some examples include Réseau MicroEntreprendre, which has 15 funds in 12 regions, the Chantier de l’économie social Trust in 2007, a $52.8 million fund in patient capital for collective organizations and enterprises, and $66 million invested in 249 projects in the province. There’s a fund for cooperative student housing (FILE) which was initiated and supported by student associations and youth organizations and will allow construction of co-op housing units, and one to assist community housing renovations (FARHC). Major challenges include scaling these efforts up, continuing to attract new categories of investors, and mobilizing private capital in long term (bond type) investments. Shayne Ramsay (BC Housing) discussed the new Housing Investment Corporation, which allows non-profits to access national and international capital–it’s funded partly by a $20 million contribution from CMHC, which allows the HIC to leverage $400 million in loans, and TD and Scotiabank are co-leads on the project. This allows the money to be available regardless of the federal government’s priorities, and enables long-term fixed-rate mortgages (30 years +) for non-profits, because it aggregating non-profits together rather than treating each one like a small, individual borrower. Their first loans will be given in the next few weeks, focused on new housing and meeting the housing innovation fund criteria. Michael Oxley (Cambridge University) mentioned that non-profit housing associations in the UK raise money through selling their own bonds and by borrowing from traditional lenders, as well as the Housing Finance Corporation. Inclusionary zoning is also increasing in importance–it contributed to over 40% of affordable housing starts from 2014-2016. Tax concessions have been granted in other countries (e.g. Germany) to developer who agree to provide rental units at below-market rents to low income households. Tara Vrooman (Vancity).

A great effort from CMHC in bringing together a very diverse group of people to discuss affordable housing, including non-profit staff, people with lived expertise, government officials, and researchers!

Canadian municipalities have a vested interest in rental housing, and some have been very innovative in their policies, programs, and tools. While they still face obstacles to the preservation of existing rental housing, they have seen some success in developing new units, especially those municipalities who have strong relationships with their provincial government.

This is the first of a few updates I’ll be posting on a study I’m leading on the barriers and solutions to rental housing implementation in Canadian municipalities. The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and runs from 2017-2020. This update focuses on the results from Phase 1 of the study (September 2017-September 2018), in which a policy analysis and survey aimed to capture the range of policies, barriers and solutions to implementation across 15 municipalities.

Methods

The 15 cities were chosen for their population size (at least 200,000) and range of approaches to rental housing policy, plans, and programs (from minimal, standard approaches to more advanced, unique approaches). The cities range in population size from 200,000 to 4.0 million; all are Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) except for Mississauga, which is a Census Subdivision of the Toronto CMA. The cities can be broken down into three categories:

  • Small to mid-size (200,000-400,000):Victoria, Regina, Saskatoon, Windsor, Sherbrooke
  • Mid-size (400,000-1,000,000): Winnipeg, Waterloo, Mississauga, Hamilton, Halifax
  • Large (over 1,000,000):Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal

Phase I of the study examined policy documents, plans, by-laws, and programs related to the provision of rental housing from the cases and their provincial governments (where applicable, e.g. in delivery of a joint program to fund new rental unit construction). A survey of municipal planners, developers, and non-profit housing developers involved in rental housing provision was then conducted (May-October 2018), and provides more firsthand insights into the municipal approaches, such as aspects of implementation or the success of key policies, which are not typically presented in publicly available documents.

Research Results

The policy analysis revealed four groups of policies: those common to all municipalities, those common to some, uncommon policies, and policies unique to a single case.

Particularly in the middle categories, there was a lot of variation in the strength of the policy and the intent of the municipality to actually implement it. For example, inclusionary zoning is a strong policy in Sherbrooke, Montreal, Vancouver, and Winnipeg, where municipal governments have had success in implementing the approach particularly in large developments requiring rezoning. Regina, Waterloo, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg are particularly advanced in their use of capital grants to support the development of rental housing, but Saskatoon offers a higher level of capital and has strong affordability requirements. A number of unique policies were found, which may be a result of the particular constraints in the municipality (e.g. Vancouver has historically seen very high housing costs and low rental vacancy rates), or unusually strong provincial-municipal collaboration (e.g. Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Montréal, and Sherbrooke). These unique policies include:

  • Vancouver’ Housing 100 Policy, Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program, Foreign Buyers Tax and Vacancy Tax By-Law
  • Saskatoon’s Rental Development Program (in partnership with the Province of Saskatchewan)
  • Province of Québec’s AccèsLogis program, which can be seen in Montréal and Sherbrooke
  • Province of Manitoba’s Rental Housing Construction Tax Credit Program, which can be seen in Winnipeg

The survey contained a number of closed ended questions on the responsibilities of the respondent’s organization, their policies addressing rental housing, their success at protecting units and building new units, and their relationships with other organizations in their region as well as the provincial and federal governments. There were a total of 102 completed responses to the survey, with a response rate of 25.5%.

Public Private Non-Profit Total
45 18 39 102
44.1% 17.6% 38.2% 100%

Some of the barriers to implementation and protection of rental housing were expected: lack of funding from provincial and federal governments, lack of resident support for higher densities and multifamily housing, and difficulty enforcing standards/policies. Other barriers raised by the participants were more surprising: lack of collaboration/communication among organizations/institutions involved in the development of rental housing and inflexible government programs. Some cities have overcome their identified barriers and seen increased cross-sector collaboration/communication, capacity building, and political will; appreciation of the need for rental housing; and introduction of incentives/tools. New federal funding is anticipated to help municipalities overcome persistent funding issues, particularly in protecting existing rental housing which has been a weak area for most municipalities.

The new National Housing Strategy, which was introduced in November 2017, is just starting to have an impact on increasing the municipal rental housing supply. In particular, the NHS is expected to play a role in preservation of existing non-profit and co-operative housing through funding for renovations and extension of existing housing agreements.

Conclusions

In summary, Canadian municipalities are taking a range of approaches to address the preservation of existing rental housing and the development of new rental housing. Some municipalities, in particular Saskatoon, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Hamilton, and Montreal have very innovative programs and approaches and stronger policy tools. Others, such as Halifax, Regina, Mississauga, and Ottawa, are less innovative and use weaker policy language. These similarities and differences will be examined further in the meta-analysis in Phase 2 of the study, with the end goal of presenting a range of successful policy tools to municipal planners, developers, and non-profit housing organizations in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

For a more in-depth discussion of the Phase 1 results, please see my presentation files.

The Honourable Bob Rae was in town this week to spend a day at the MacEachen Institute of Public Policy and Governance. Rae, former Ontario premier (1990-1995) and interim leader of the federal Liberal party (2011-2013), is a member of the External Advisory Council for the Institute and spent time meeting our Founding Fellows, lecturing to a Masters class in public policy, and doing a special lecture on ethics in domestic and foreign affairs in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs.

Bob Rae, me, and Kevin Quigley (director of MacEachen Institute)

You can catch the video from our “Policy Matters” speaker series here. This panel featured Elizabeth Haggart (Nova Scotia Department of Seniors), myself, and Kasia Tota (HRM), moderated by Jacqueline Gahagan (Dalhousie Faculty of Health). More information about the panelists can be found here.

I’m thrilled to announce that four of my students from the urban design/environmental planning studio have won the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) National Student Competition for Affordable Rental Housing! Lina el-Setouhy, Chloe Espiard, Mitch Gold and Juniper Littlefield are one of three student teams to be awarded the competition’s top prize of $10,000. The students submitted their final studio project, “The Jetty: An Affordable Housing Cooperative”. The competition was launched in 2017 with the new National Housing Strategy and is part of CMHC’s Innovation Fund, both of which have jump-started the implementation of rental and other types of housing in Canadian cities after many years of inconsistent funding.

Student winners Juniper Littlefield, Mitch Gold, Chloe Espiard, and Lina el-Setouhy at their final presentation in December 2017

As I wrote last fall, the students had to come up with site/landscape plans, floor plans, a demographic analysis to justify their approach, a sustainability lens (funding for energy-efficient products, sustainable landscape or building materials), and a financial model (pro forma and 10-year affordability) for their projects. This helped ensure that their projects were as viable as possible–CMHC was especially interested in innovative sustainability or financial approaches to rental housing. The winning group proposed a student cooperative that would incorporate refurbished shipping containers in a low-rise housing development. Our site was on Quinpool Road in Halifax bounded by Quingate and Windsor Streets. I’m especially proud of the students in this class for learning all of the aspects that make affordable housing so challenging to build, including combining small and large funds and the need to mix market and non-market units, commercial and retail space to achieve a realistic profit.

A special thank you to Jeff Haggett, Lindell Smith, Neil Lovitt, and Bob Bjerke, all of whom provided valuable insights and critique to the students during the term.

As a Founding Fellow in the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance, I’m pleased to announce our fall speaker series at Dalhousie. Each of the “Policy Matters” panel discussions features experts from Nova Scotia and further afield. Topics range from emergency management to public affairs, Crown-Indigenous relationships to provincial-federal pharmacare issues. If you have an opinion on President Trump, you’ll want to check out the Sept. 11th panel on “Echoes of 9/11 in the Trump Era” and “Faking it: The Impact of Fake News on Today’s Political Landscape.” Or just come out to see Bob Rae speak on Sept. 27th!

I’m a speaker in the Sept. 18th panel on policy issues in housing an aging population. We’ll be discussing some of the challenges in Nova Scotia, where most of our towns and cities are facing this demographic shift.

Check out these posters for all the details!

 

I’m pleased to announce that I have just been appointed a Founding Fellow of the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance. The MacEachen Institute aims to bring together people in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to develop policy solutions to pressing problems in society. The Institute is named for Allan J. MacEachen, who was influential in the development of some of Canada’s key social programs and policies, including reforming labour law and minimum wage as Minister of Labour in the 1950s and guiding the development of the Medical Care Act (1966) as Minister of National Health and Welfare.

The MacEachen Institute was founded in 2015, and has an impressive External Advisory Committee, Research Committee, and Junior Fellows. This year four Founding Fellows were appointed for a two-year term: myself, Ahsan Habib (Planning), Jacqueline Gahagan (Health) and Larry Hughes (Engineering). Each of us has specific goals about how to use research to catalyze idea generation, spur debate and discussion on pressing social and environmental issues, and inform policy development. In fact, Jacquie is already planning a workshop on LGBTQ housing at the end of the month; she has a long history in working in the public sector in health promotion. Larry’s work is in emissions decoupling and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Ahsan, my colleague at the School of Planning, works with communities on transportation modelling, including planning for disasters and evacuation. I bring the housing and policy side of transportation, with two current studies on Canadian rental housing policy and supports for non-profit housing in Halifax. I’ll be holding a workshop on rental housing policy in the winter to bring ideas from across the country to public, private, and non-profit housing experts in Halifax.

 

HRM active transportation coordinator Hanita Koblents discusses her redesign of Argyle Street. The students, who live all over the region, had never been on this street before.

Last Friday, May 18th, the Dalhousie School of Planning was thrilled to offer a workshop for African Nova Scotian high school students in partnership with the Black Business Initiative in Halifax. Eight students attended our workshop on planning and ten attended the workshop on architecture held by the School of Architecture on the same day. Architecture professor James Forren pursued this idea with BBI throughout the fall, and then recommended that the School of Planning get in touch so we could possibly hold a parallel workshop. We all felt that this was a great way to introduce high school students to our disciplines, which most of them don’t know about until well into their undergrad degrees; BBI aims to introduce students to non-traditional careers. Our sponsors were all thrilled about the event, including our main funder, the provincial government, and the Dalhousie President’s Office, who paid for books for each of the planning students. BBI representatives Laurissa Manning (Director, Stakeholder and Community Relations) and Tracey Williams (Business is Jammin’ Youth Coordinator), some of the parents, and a few of the sponsors observed the event.

Aaron Murnaghan, heritage planner at HRM, introduces students to some of the historic business district, with the Grand Parade and Barrington Street.

For our workshop, we planned a few activities: a brief primer to planning as a field and a mapping exercise that would get the students out into the city in the morning, and discussion in the afternoon. Colleagues Eric Rapaport, Dave Guyadeen led a mapping exercise on four nearby streets: Argyle, Barrington, Hollis, and Lower Water. We chose these for their proximity (Argyle begins just two blocks from our building on Spring Garden Road) but also because they show such a range: Argyle was just redesigned into a pedestrian-oriented strip; Barrington is the narrower, more traditional historic main street; Hollis is the 1950s car-oriented version; and Lower Water is both historic and tourist-driven. Students were given maps with one block of each street, and we got them to map things like lighting, seating, trees, retail and commercial land uses, and observe the way people used the street. HRM active transportation coordinator Hanita Koblents met us to discuss the redesign of Argyle street which she led, and then stayed to answer questions for the students; for Barrington Street, heritage planner Aaron Murnaghan discussed a bit of Halifax history; and urban designer TJ Maguire showed the students some of Waterfront Development Corporation‘s work on the sea bridge and the famous orange hammocks on the boardwalk.

HRM Councillor Lindell Smith dropped in to meet the kids and discussed how community support encouraged him to run for office, and the responsibility he feels to represent the community.

After a lunch break where students got to meet the students in the architecture workshop and representatives from BBI and the Dalhousie Presidents’ Office, we held a discussion on their observations. HRM City Councillor Lindell Smith dropped in to meet the students and discuss the responsibilities of holding public office as a member of the African Nova Scotian community; Smith made history in 2016 when he became the youngest councillor and the first African Nova Scotian councillor in over 20 years. Our current Bachelors students Taylor MacIntosh and Ryan Tram also shared their experiences in the BCD program, though by mid-afternoon it was a little more difficult to hold the students’ attention on what was for them a Professional Development day at school. BBI’s Tracey Williams asked the students to answer a few questions so they could evaluate the success of the workshop, and he asked whether they might consider planning as a career; we were surprised when half the students raised their hands! Each of them took home a copy of my edited book Planning Canada: A Case Study Approach, which will provide them with a more thorough introduction to the field, copies of Indigenous community plans completed by our School’s Cities and Environment Unit, and some information about our undergraduate degree. Check out the article about the workshop on the Dalhousie News site here.

Our team: Dave Guyadeen, Eric Rapaport, TJ Maguire from Waterfront Development, BCD students Taylor MacIntosh and Ryan Tram, and me on the sea bridge

Next year, Forren wants to hold a summer camp for youth to introduce them to architecture. We are strongly considering holding our own for planning, and many of the funders have indicated that they are on board, including a representative from TD Canada Trust and the President’s Office. Eric, Dave and I agreed that, as planning professors, this has been one of the most exciting initiatives we’ve been involved in so far! If we get the chance to do this for an entire week we’ll have time to introduce students to some of the interesting historical planning projects, like Africville and the Cogswell interchange projects which had major impacts on the African Nova Scotian community; social planning aspects like the community-driven initiatives in Mulgrave Park and the Halifax Local Immigration Partnership; transportation work being done by Halifax Cycling Coalition; and the Ecology Action Centre’s initiatives.

 

 

Students attending both planning and architecture workshops, along with the professors, BBI staff, and funders. Thanks to our Dalhousie photographer Nick Pearce for this shot.

Jennifer Keesmaat, former director of planning for the City of Toronto, has conducted an independent review of the proposed Halifax CentrePlan. Sponsored by Urban Development Institute of Nova Scotia, Keesmaat has produced a report with recommendations to Halifax planners: twenty-three suggestions to make the CentrePlan stronger. Tonight I’ll be live blogging from her presentation at Ondaatje Hall on Dalhousie’s main campus.

As would be expected, Keesmaat brought a lot of Toronto examples along with her to frame her comments. She did have some insights into the plan that matched those of many planners in the city, but these were coloured by Toronto’s spotty record of urban development and inconsistent planning efforts, many of which she used as examples of good planning. She began by stating that the city needs to ensure complete communities by adding amenities to neighbourhoods, instead of focusing so much on built form.

Keesmaat also says we need to think carefully about heritage conservation districts. This would confirm the social contract between residents and neighbourhoods on what will change and what will not. We need to preserve what makes Halifax unique, those things that are essential to the community, as a trade off for new development. These districts can be very detailed, down to the window type and size, or less prescriptive; the main thing is to protect the scale and overall feeling of the neighbourhood. She gave examples of heritage districts in Toronto, e.g. the MARS Innovation hub on College which still looks and feels very much like it did over a hundred years ago. She is right to some extent–the Victorian upper class Toronto neighbourhoods are fairly well preserved while others have seen rampant high-rise development (including a corner she referenced, Bloor and Bathurst).

Another key area to emphasize in the plan is character areas: Keesmaat says there is a risk in painting with broad brushstrokes across the region, e.g. in terms of density along corridors. Halifax needs to recognize special places in the city, similar to the Brickworks in Toronto, and divert growth to areas that can handle it better. She referenced Toronto’s mid-rise strategy. But, having read Toronto’s strategy in detail, I would say that it actually takes a similar approach to Halifax’s CentrePlan, designating corridors for mid-rise development to help support transit–in fact, I would bet Toronto’s strategy was the inspiration for the Halifax CentrePlan team.

Keesmaat felt that Halifax also needs to capitalize on density to deliver livability. It’s not easy to build a livable city anywhere, but it’s important to negotiate and go back and forth between developer and planning department to improve the quality of the projects, something she says she has read in Larry Beasley’s forthcoming book on planning in Vancouver. This helps build a shared vision based on complete communities. She gave the example of the southeast corner of Sheppard/Don Mills in Toronto, where targeted new retail, community centres, and public art were used to improve the cluster of high-rise residential buildings that had “no amenities and nothing to walk to.” I actually lived there during my PhD fieldwork; the Fairview Mall is on the northeast corner and the Don Mills subway stop is right there, generating a regular stream of traffic until it closes at 1:30am. But the interior section of the “neighbourhood” feels so dimly lit and unsafe that you actually don’t want to walk the 15 minutes to access these.

Keesmaat suggests Halifax needs to integrate its planning frameworks into a comprehensive vision, an interesting comment as Toronto has never had a vision for what the city could be like in 20, 30, or 40 years. Keesmat notes that the investments in density and growth need to be part of a bigger picture, again as part of the social contract with residents. The vision has to “pull you through the implementation and construction phase”, otherwise it’s too much change to ask of people. Halifax needs to link the Integrated Mobility Plan, built form strategy, and open space plan to the CentrePlan, for example. There’s an opportunity to strengthen what the municipality will do, e.g. partnering with the private sector on infrastructure or parks.

Modelling scenarios could help, e.g. what happens when you overlay the proposed CentrePlan, land use bylaw, and urban design guidelines? You might not get the densities that you need. She felt that HRM also needs to think about higher development standards for suburban areas, instead of focusing all the effort on the urban areas to achieve a walkable, low-impact community. Modelling will also help determine whether density bonusing will work, and in which areas. The municipality also needs to seriously consider giving city-owned land over to non-profits or developers to build affordable housing.

Many of Keesmaat’s recommendations are shared by local planners; I was part of a small group who developed comments on the CentrePlan and presented them to the municipal planners. We also noted the lack of overlap/reinforcement of the plan with other plans and strategies like the Integrated Mobility Plan, the need for more detail on how new affordable housing will be built and existing affordability protected, and the need to protect key heritage areas. So it was nice to hear this overlap.

But Keesmaat spent at least half of her time talking about the Toronto projects, referencing them even when audience members asked further questions about Halifax. She certainly made the Toronto examples seem like they were ideal, when many of them have been problematic: I worked a few blocks from the Honest Ed’s redevelopment at Bloor and Bathurst, which is planning to dump a whole lot of height and density on a fairly compact site, retaining two blocks of fine-grained historic buildings which will head decidedly upscale in service and clientele. Even when Keesmaat suggested removing a plan element, such as density bonusing, it was marred by Toronto’s experience: Ontario has only allowed amenity contributions from developers for a few years and Toronto has struggled with implementing it, so it’s no surprise that she suggested that it wouldn’t work in Halifax. Vancouver, Calgary, and New York don’t seem to have this problem, but as a mid-sized city there may be weak uptake from developers here.

Overall, Keesmaat’s review of the proposed Halifax CentrePlan is tinted by her rose-coloured perceptions of Toronto planning, which isn’t exactly the most innovative in the country. And that’s too bad, because actually admitting that planning is complex, and sometimes projects don’t work out the way we think they will, is a fantastic learning experience. Halifax planners could have learned just as much from Toronto’s failures as from its supposed successes. I’ll never forget a talk I attended back in 2006 by the transportation director for the Atlanta Olympics, and all the mistakes he acknowledged and joked about. These errors paved the way for a much more successful run the next time around, and proved highly instrumental for Vancouver, which was preparing for the 2010 Winter Games at the time. The Planning Institute of British Columbia recently held a “fail fair” where planners could share those not-so-great projects in order to learn from them. We’ll see what Halifax planners make of Keesmaat’s review and the public comments on the CentrePlan.

 

Yesterday Vancouver City Council approved the third phase of the Cambie Corridor plan, which will guide future growth along the Canada Line, the LRT line completed for the 2010 Winter Olympics. While Vancouver had always intended to preserve affordable housing along the corridor and use community amenity contributions to support new affordable units, the approved plan is a truly well-balanced attempt at increasing density in a existing neighbourhoods while protecting affordability and equity. There are a lot of lessons here for other municipalities attempting TOD, protection of affordable housing or creation of new rental housing, all of which have proven difficult for Canadian municipalities.

What Vancouver has done in its typical, well-structured and clearly documented way is address the fact that gentrification will definitely occur in this corridor. Council was under pressure to address affordability concerns as several high-end developments were already underway–and well they should be. It’s been nine years since the Canada Line opened and everyone knew land prices would soar immediately as it always does with new LRT infrastructure. At the time, there was a lot of underused land along the corridor (click here for photos from 2009) and despite Vancouver’s attempt to preserve industrial land, it was well known that some of this land would be gobbled up by developers seeking to build luxury high-rise condos, the city’s stock in trade. Not only does Vancouver’s phase three plan address affordable housing, but it goes beyond that with its Public Benefits Strategy which acknowledges the need for new social amenities, recreational facilities, and employment in the corridor. Clearly the 60 public events and extensive online consultation contributed to the development of the plan.

The population in the Cambie Corridor will more than double from 33,600 in 2011, as 45,700 new residents will be living in the area by 2041. The plan sets targets of building 5,000 secured rental units, 2,800 social housing units, and 400 below-market rental units targeted to those earning between $30,000 and $80,000. More than 1,700 existing single-family housing lots will be used for these projects. This means that fully one-quarter of the anticipated 42,000 new residential units will be affordable.

There’s a level of detail in the plan that is lacking in many others: on p43, in the area of Heather and 16th, the City describes the mixed-use 4-5 storey development or 100% secured rental housing they would like to see and state that, “On existing purpose-built rental housing sites (750 16th Avenue, 711 17th Avenue, 3217 and 3255 Heather Street), existing tenants will be entitled to compensation and assistance in accordance with the City’s Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy and its guidelines.” On p56, the exact lots that would be consolidated for a 100% secured rental project are listed; p67 outlines the exact square footage of non-profit organization space, space for a youth centre, childcare facilities, and artist studios that would be required for sites between 39th and 45th Avenue. A closer look at the plan reveals a generally mid-rise approach to density along Cambie, with a concentration of 15- to 18-storey towers near Cambie and 41st. There are some special sites for redevelopment, like the YMCA site near Langara College which will be targeted for 80% condo/20% social housing or 100% rental with 20% below-market rental; Balfour Block at the north end of the corridor will include replacing existing and maximizing new rental units, with a target of 25% below-market and childcare on site. The plan constantly refers to the City’s other plans and strategies, indicating how it reinforces the City’s priorities and goals (e.g. on p27 it explains how the Cambie Corridor Plan helps achieve the goals of Vancouver’s 2017 Housing Strategy).

Elements of the plan’s Public Benefits Strategy include include more than 20 acres of parks, childcare centres (1,080 new spaces), community facilities (civic centre and seniors centre), and improvements to the public realm. Through collaboration with the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, the plan hopes to attract 9,200 new jobs to the corridor. Transportation improvements will include a #41 B-Line (finally!), and improved capacity on the Canada Line, upgrades to the cycling network.

Expect these targets to be carefully monitored and documented online, something the City has done with most of its other plans. This makes it easy to determine its success at key time points (e.g. ten years after implementation). Vancouver is excellent at documenting its plans and strategies: the Cambie Corridor page on their website even allows you to “read the plan in various levels of detail”: two minutes (infographic), ten minutes (plan summary), twenty minutes (consultation display boards), or the full plan.

While the City can’t solve all of its affordable housing or social problems, the Cambie Corridor Plan is light years ahead of the Halifax CentrePlan’s proposed corridor approach, which is currently available for public review. Corridor planning can be difficult when it includes high-order transit, which has been linked to gentrification. There is a temptation to focus on density and form above all else. The CentrePlan is a comprehensive plan for the entire downtown of the region, and as such it can’t get into the level of detail of the Cambie Corridor Plan. But there are some fundamental problems. First, the plan needs to outline the ways in which it reinforces the goals of other plans and strategies, something it misses the mark on. For example, the designated corridors do not align perfectly with the transit corridors outlined in the 2017 Integrated Mobility Plan. This will be critical if HRM wants to achieve a shift in transportation patterns and choices (Halifax actually saw an increase in its driving mode share from 2011-2016). Second, more specificity for the corridors is necessary to prevent massive redevelopment without regard to its social effects. HRM knows that gentrification will occur, but does not currently have an approach to slowing its effects, including protecting demolition of existing rental housing or ensuring replacement of units that would be lost in new development. The social and community elements of the plan are largely lacking, as is the attention to detail. In addition to this, all corridors are treated the same–vulnerable neighbourhoods like Gottingen Street, the historic black business area which still boasts lots of local shops, affordable rental housing, and social housing are treated the same as Young Street, which doesn’t have the same social concerns, demographics, or types of units. For example, a detailed corridor study for the more vulnerable Gottingen (a much shorter corridor than Cambie) could provide the same level of detail as the Cambie Corridor Plan and provide more clarity for residents and developers.

There is no such thing as a perfect plan, and Vancouver’s skyrocketing housing prices are proof that even when there is success, there may be harmful effects on affordability. But the Cambie Corridor plan is a rare attempt to plan for an entire linear neighbourhood in a much more comprehensive way than most cities in Canada have attempted. It is similar to the corridor planning approach used in cities like Tokyo, which has excelled in this area for decades and achieved a very high level of transit use. But it actually attempts to preserve affordability, consider social amenities and the improve the overall quality of life for residents. Let’s hope that it’s successful; undoubtedly, we will find out through future monitoring and evaluation of the plan.