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Ottawa’s Next Big Housing Discussion: Zoning for Infill

Recently Statistics Canada released new census figures that showed the population of Ottawa-Gatineau grew from 1,371,576 in 2016 to 1,488,307 last year. This 8.5 per cent population growth over the last five years is higher than the national rate of 5.2 per cent, and meant Ottawa passed Calgary to become the fourth largest Canadian urban centre.

Ottawa as a city is on the verge of an exciting new era – one where we, as we grow 40% in the next 25 years (from 1 million residents today to 1.4 million) in 2046 into a major metropolis, are competing for talent at a global level. It is critical that the Official Plan ensures that affordability and choice in housing is available to residents at all levels of income.

Affordability, and the opportunity to raise a family in a home of your own, is one of our most attractive characteristics for the recruitment and retention of employers and work force.

In order to provide sufficient housing for the sheer number of people we’re expecting, Ottawa needs to grow Up, In and Out: Up – with taller buildings around transit stations and on main streets; In – with denser infill projects in existing neighbourhoods; and, Out – with new communities in the suburbs.

Having an updated Zoning By-law in place in a timely manner is critical if the city is going to achieve its goal of having the majority of new homes built in existing neighbourhoods.

The housing landscape for Ottawa is changing. Currently, about 40% of all new homes are built within existing neighbourhoods. The City’s approved growth strategy and Official Plan calls for that number to increase to 60% per year by 2046.

Over the next 25 years, that means 92,000 homes are expected to be built in existing neighbourhoods across the City.

This means the City has to be very aggressive in revising its zoning bylaw in order to achieve its intensification targets, and that all neighbourhoods need to become denser.

Well-crafted infill zoning is critical to providing for “missing middle” housing types, increasing opportunities for housing that’s affordable, and creating and enhancing Ottawa’s urban neighbourhoods. New, intelligent, intense building forms that can be imagined in creative ways by design professionals.

Now is the time to take bold steps to increase density and the variety of infill projects that will be created, and truly push the envelope for as-of-right development.

There is no more affordable urban housing than low-rise wood-frame buildings that are built as of right. In order to make a significant impact on housing supply and affordability in the city, zoning needs to be ambitious and forward-thinking in this regard.

We do not have the luxury of being timid or taking half-steps with the aggressive intensification goals the City has adopted.

The new Zoning By-law is set to be in place by the end of 2024.

From the industry’s perspective, the timeline for developing and implementing a new zoning by-law will greatly affect the City’s ability to achieve its housing goals. The Zoning By-law needs to be expedited as much as possible, with priority areas and zoning in place as soon as they can be. The lack of proper zoning being in place could result in a shortfall of homes the new Official Plan is counting on to develop through intensification.

We’re urging the City while moving forward in this process to take every opportunity to shorten the timeline. Every milestone should consider the next phase of work and whether there is opportunity to reduce the length of time needed to complete that phase, and identify ways to speed up the remaining work.

It’s important to keep in mind that the homes that the Official Plan and zoning concerns itself with are not the ones that are going to be built tomorrow, or even next year. They are the ones that will be built 5, 10, 20 years from now. They are the new homes that will be built for our children, and for our grandchildren.

Everyone – the City, the residential construction industry, the public and communities – has a role to play in supporting and achieving intensification.

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