Trudeau wants cities to change zoning rules. Why does that matter?

Click to play video: 'Could ‘fourplexes’ solve Canada’s housing crisis?'
Could ‘fourplexes’ solve Canada’s housing crisis?
WATCH: Could 'fourplexes' solve Canada's housing crisis? – Oct 19, 2023

The federal government is sending out a message to municipalities across Canada: it’s time to make some zoning changes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced that his government would be investing $114 million to build more housing in Brampton, Ont.

“Brampton is the next city to receive significant funding from our housing accelerator. We estimate that this will mean more than 24,000 new homes over the next decade, with 3,100 fast-tracked to be built in the next three years alone,” Trudeau said, alongside Housing Minister Sean Fraser and Diversity and Inclusion Minister Kamal Khera, as well as Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.

The Housing Accelerator Fund, a $4-billion federal funding program, earmarks funds for municipalities to support housing. These incentives are tied to zoning changes that would allow for more mixed and middle housing options to be built.

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Fraser said the federal government was tackling the problem of how cities build homes. This includes pushing municipalities to build more fourplex and mixed housing units. 

“A lot of people don’t realize, one of the reasons that certain communities in this country don’t have enough homes is because it’s literally illegal to build the kinds of homes that people could live in,” Fraser said on Friday.

In much of the country, zoning restrictions mean developers are only allowed to build either single-family homes or condo towers in residential areas. There is a huge chunk of housing options, often referred to as “missing middle housing,” that does not get built.

Some experts believe different types of housing, like fourplexes, can help ease the housing crisis in Canada.

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“We just can’t afford this kind of single-family housing. But more importantly, it doesn’t satisfy a growing part of the market as people age,” said James McKellar, professor emeritus of real estate and infrastructure at York University’s Schulich School of Business, adding that for an aging population looking to downsize, the current housing market is not well suited.

“The choice is (between) a 2,000-square-feet house or a 650-square-feet condo,” he told Global News.

McKellar said a fourplex offers a solution for this conundrum.

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“It (fourplex housing) would allow you, for example, to move your parents in and have their own suite. It allows you to have an extended family. It also allows people to have an investment unit that they may have their kids stay in for a while and then they rent it out,” he said.

On Friday, Brown said: “We are committed, absolutely committed, to building the missing middle housing for younger generations.”

Mississauga, Ont., city council last week shot down a proposal to build fourplexes along transit corridors. On Friday, Mayor Bonnie Crombie overrode council and approved the changes using her strong-mayor powers.

“Given the scale and urgency of the housing crisis, it is critical that leadership at all levels of government work together,” Crombie said in a statement on Friday. 

“Issuing this directive will ensure that Mississauga continues to be eligible for $120 million in important federal funding for housing and community infrastructure while allowing for much-needed housing to be built in our neighbourhoods for the next generation.”

Click to play video: 'Will buildings already zoned for short term rentals be exempt from new short term rental legislation?'
Will buildings already zoned for short term rentals be exempt from new short term rental legislation?

Carolyn Whitzman, a housing policy expert and expert advisor to the Housing Assessment Resource Tools Project, said this problem goes back nearly a century.

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“Zoning came in in the 1920s, so it has a century of use in Canada. They were made much stricter in terms of suburban redevelopment from about the 1960s and 1970s onward. So now, you’re talking about one or two generations that really can’t imagine any other (kind of) development happening,” Whitzman told Global News.

Fraser noted Friday that in addition to Brampton, several cities across the country, such as London, Vaughan and Hamilton in Ontario, as well as Halifax, have already made agreements with the federal governments on housing. He said others, like Kitchener and Burlington, Ont., and Calgary, were making significant gains in zoning changes.

Fraser said that while he will have to review the changes the city has made, “Mississauga should expect to be included as a successful recipient in the Housing Accelerator Fund.”

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