Ottawa wants to tie access to $6B in new housing funds to fourplex approval

Click to play video: 'Canada pledges $6B for infrastructure fund amid housing crisis'
Canada pledges $6B for infrastructure fund amid housing crisis
WATCH: Canada pledges $6B for infrastructure fund amid housing crisis – Apr 2, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new $6-billion housing infrastructure fund in Dartmouth, NS for municipalities and provinces to speed up housing-related development.

One of the conditions is that four-unit dwellings be allowed by default in municipal zoning rules, rather than being assessed on a case-by-case basis.

This is the top line in a host of conditions to access the funding, which also includes a greater push for “missing middle homes” such as duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and other types of multi-unit homes.

Click to play video: 'Feds will tie conditions to $6B infrastructure fund: Fraser'
Feds will tie conditions to $6B infrastructure fund: Fraser

In addition, as-of-right or pre-approved zoning must be given to homes in the upcoming Housing Design Catalogue to access the new federal funding.

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“We’re not just going to put this money on the table, wash our hands of the issue and walk away. We’re going to insist that our partners make certain kinds of changes that make it easier and faster to build homes in this country,” Housing Minister Sean Fraser said.

All of this is part of the Liberals’ plan to pre-announce various budget measures ahead of tabling the government’s key fiscal document on April 16.

Late last year, Fraser announced plans to revive an old wartime housing program with the creation of a catalogue of prefabricated, factory-built home designs.

The goal is to standardize designs that can get through municipal project approvals more quickly, and make it easier for developers to build them in larger numbers.

Since taking over the portfolio, Fraser has been making a broader push for more multi-unit homes calling on provinces and municipalities to “legalize housing.”

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford has ruled out a recommendation from that province’s Housing Affordability Task Force that called for the pre-approval of such dwellings.

“You have to differentiate between putting four units in an existing house or your neighbour tearing down the house and putting a four-storey tower,” Ford said at a housing-related announcement in Hamilton on March 22.

“But what I’m not for is putting four-storey, six-storey, eight-storey towers right dead centre in a community with regular housing.”

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Federal budget allocates additional $15B to apartment construction loan program

The Liberals’ stated focus is to try and make the housing market fairer for millennials and gen Z.

This comes on the heels of an RBC report showing that interest rates pushed home ownership to its most unaffordable levels ever. According to the report, a household with an average income needs to spend 63.5 per cent of its income to cover the cost of owning an average home.

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In the most expensive city, Vancouver, RBC found 106.3 per cent of a household’s income goes to paying for an average home. Toronto placed second, at housing costs eating up 84.8 per cent of income.

Other major cities like Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are all getting more expensive, the bank found, with the cost of owning a home taking up around 50 per cent of household income.

The overall goal of the infrastructure fund is to accelerate the construction of housing infrastructure like water, wastewater, storm drains and solid waste.

The proposed fund has $1 billion set aside for municipalities. The government says this is to “support urgent infrastructure needs” needed to build more houses.

The remaining $5 billion is set to be doled out through partnerships with the provinces and territories, so long as conditions are met.

We’re going to work with communities in provinces and territories who share our vision, not just to tinker around the margins, to actually actually solve the national housing crisis. We can and we will solve this challenge by working together,” Fraser said.

What are some of the conditions?

In addition to the as-of-right development requirements, provinces must include a three-year development charge freeze on municipalities with a population of more than 300,000.

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They must also adopt forthcoming changes to the National Building Code to support more accessible, affordable and climate-friendly housing options and implement measures for the government’s home buyer’s and renter’ bill of rights.

Those are set to be included in the upcoming budget.

Provinces have a deadline of Jan. 1, 2025 to secure a deal with the federal government to access this funding, and the territorial deadline is April 1, 2025. Any province that doesn’t get a deal will see its allocation of the funding go to the municipal stream.

In the upcoming budget, the Liberals also plan on adding $400 million to the $4.4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund. Over the last year, the government has been striking deals with municipalities to access this funding to speed up the approval and construction of new homes.

According to government figures, 179 agreements have been struck with the goal of “fast-tracking” the construction of 750,000 homes over the next decade.

While no dollar figures are announced, the Liberals also signalled an upcoming public transit fund, where municipalities will need to make further zoning changes to get access.

Among the criteria are the elimination of mandatory minimum parking requirements within 800 metres of a high-frequency transit line, allowing high-density housing within 800 metres of such lines and post-secondary institutions, and completing a housing needs assessment for all communities with a population of more than 30,000.

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— with files from Global News’ Colin D’Mello

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