Affordable Housing in Markham

Housing affordability is a crisis in Markham. The data is shocking. A huge proportion of residents are paying more than 50% of their gross income on housing. There are no purpose-built rental buildings in Ward 3. Illegal but affordable basement apartments are common.

Thankfully, the provincial government and our Mayor have finally recognised that we have a crisis. The province is finally putting in place a regime to allow for “inclusionary zoning”. This will allow the city to require a set percentage of units in new buildings in MTSAs to be affordable. Provincial policy also requires us to allow (and properly regulate) secondary suites (e.g. basement apartments) in most instances. In some circumstances a third unit, say a “tiny home” in a backyard, will also be allowed, according to the province.

The City itself is preparing an Affordable Housing Strategy (currently delayed by Covid-19) covering a number of policy tools that we can employ, in partnership with developers, York Region and other levels of government. The City is planning a Housing Summit for invited stakeholders as one step in a long consultation process. Of course, there will also be an opportunity for public input.

All that said, there a risk that good planning will suffer when developers offer more affordable housing in order to receive permission to build the wrong sorts of buildings in the wrong places. I fear this may have happened already when Council recently approved a small incursion of development into the White Belt along the border with Whitchurch-Stouffville, as part of a development that lies mostly in Stouffville.

I have no objection to the development to the degree that it is aimed at seniors and there will be affordable rental units. However, I fear that now that we have opened up the White Belt to development, other property owners there will come forward with proposals before the area is properly designated for development under our Official Plan. If we turn them down and they appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT, formerly the Ontario Municipal Board / OMB) or even the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, what will the decision be? Will we retain sufficient control over our own development decisions? Certainly, the White Belt is not required for Markham to meet the growth targets assigned to it by the Province via York Region.