Two former London, Ont., city councillors connected to the housing sector say the municipality can take action to try to alleviate some of the pressures impacting the skyrocketing cost of a home in the region.
According to data released Tuesday from the London and St. Thomas Association of Realtors (LSTAR), the average sale price of a home in the region was $643,835 in April 2021, climbing up from $634,700 the previous month and soaring from $423,143 a year ago.
There are several factors at play in the rising costs, but London Home Builders’ Association CEO Jared Zaifman and Royal Lepage Triland real estate sales agent Roger Caranci say the city has a role to play in the cost and availability of land for development.
“You’ve heard the stories of people not being able to afford to buy a house because of the cost, the overbidding, and a lot of it coming from Toronto,” says Caranci, who was also councillor for Ward 1 from 2000 to 2010.
“But a large portion of that is because of the fact that the land is not coming on quick enough for builders to build homes. Because of that, land prices go higher, homes go higher.”
Zaifman, who was the Ward 14 councillor from 2014 to 18, says part of the supply issue for lots is due to the time it takes to get permits. He says conversations are ongoing with the city to see “how best we can work together to expedite those processes.”
“The demands have kept going up as we’ve had population growth in the city but certainly staffing levels at city hall are sort of stagnant,” he says.
“City staff work incredibly hard and go above and beyond really quite often to try and get done for the industry and get everything accomplished, but there are only so many people and only so much time in the day.”
The city’s manager of development finance, development and compliance services, Kevin Edwards, says the number of permits approved is up year-over-year.
“Total new dwelling permits were up 42.5 per cent in the City in 2020 over 2019,” he told Global News, though a staff report notes that figure is largely due to an increase in the number of apartment dwelling units.
Of the new dwelling units in 2020, 59.5 per cent were apartments while 27.9 per cent were single/semi-detached dwellings.
As for speeding up the process, Edwards says “the City generally meets or exceeds the statutory timelines for administrative and political approvals required for various steps of the development process.”
Edwards adds that more work is underway to find “process efficiencies” and “establish accelerated timelines” through the Rapid Housing team, which was formed in late 2020 “to facilitate the rapid review of planning applications for key affordable housing sites associated with Federal funding delivery in 2021.”
Caranci says the cost of lots has risen quickly, with a lot that would have cost $200,000 to $250,000 a few years ago now approaching $300,000.
“A front foot, and that’s how lots are sold, a front foot for a lot was around the $5,000 mark. It is in excess of $7,000 I’m hearing today. That’s quite a jump over a short amount of time.”
He also pointed to the city’s urban growth boundary as a factor in the supply of land.
Under The London Plan, the city’s most recent official plan, the city’s focus is on growing “inward and upward” and on planning “for infrastructure designed to service and support growth in a way that is sustainable from a financial, environmental, and social perspective.”
“This should not be interpreted to mean that greenfield forms of development will not be permitted, but rather there will be a greater emphasis on encouraging and supporting growth within the existing built-up area of the city,” the plan states.
Through the plan, the urban growth boundary will only be expanded “if it is demonstrated through a comprehensive review that there is insufficient land supply to accommodate growth needs for up to 20 years, considering this Plan’s intensification target.”
Edwards says the city already has “a considerable amount of land” available for growth within that boundary.
“Approximately 3,680 hectares in vacant lands is already designated within the urban growth boundary to accommodate residential growth. Approximately 1,120 hectares of that supply is currently being advanced by owners through planning applications.”
Caranci says he knows that “many people will be out there saying, ‘Oh, there’s enough there,'” but he disagrees.
“You can speak to many Londoners who are there and they’re now in their 20s and 30s who were trying to buy their first home. Ask them how difficult it is and they can tell you, and we see it all the time,” he says.
“It’s heartbreaking because you want to see people that want to start off in life and they just can’t because the fact things have climbed so high so quickly.”
Amelia Simmons knows firsthand how quickly the housing market has changed.
She bought a home in St. Thomas in 2014 for $170,000 but says “about three years ago, I left a toxic marriage and I had to get out of the house fast.”
She quickly rented an apartment, but when she was ready to look for a home again she found herself priced out.
“Once I got the money from the house because my ex bought me out, I started looking into buying my own home,” she says, but was only approved for a mortgage of $190,000.
“With the market right now, there’s really nothing out there for me.”
Simmons is now expecting to move into a home next April through Habitat for Humanity after a friend encouraged her to apply.
“I was like, ‘You know, I probably won’t get it.’ She just said, ‘Apply anyway.’ So I did,” she told Global News.
“The build doesn’t start until June. They have to get the plans and everything approved by the city first, and then that will go ahead. And then I have to get 500 hours in for community service.”
While she’s excited about her upcoming home, she expressed frustration at the current housing market situation.
“From seven years ago until now, it’s just skyrocketed. And it’s very frustrating as a single person because I had a house before and I know I can do it and it’s just there’s nothing really that you can do about it. And I feel really bad for the people that are single and are trying and there’s just nothing for them out there.”