Denley: Affordability – the forgotten issue in the argument over Ottawa's new official plan

By Randall Denley, Ottawa Citizen, May 13, 2020

City councillor Shawn Menard is right when he says the city should have provided costs for the three long-term development expansion scenarios that councillors are considering. Any rational decision should be based on a comparison of costs and benefits, but the city says it didn’t have the time or money to update a 2013 report.

Pity, because a fact-based analysis might have slowed the geyser of criticism from growth critics. Prominent among those critics is Menard himself, who colourfully claimed on Twitter that “Developer lobbyists want your rent costs and property taxes to go up so they can build ‘affordable’ single family homes in empty fields with no transit, schools, roads or water pipes. What a waste of money.”

The capital cost of suburban growth, or sprawl as its opponents routinely call it, is largely, although not entirely, borne by the buyers of new homes. Provincial rules prohibit city officials from collecting every last penny of growth cost from new home buyers, but they take everything they are allowed.

The city does a detailed calculation to determine how much cost new development adds to road building, water services, storm water, police, fire, transit, affordable housing, paramedics and corporate studies. New home buyers pay those costs through development charges. They even get to pay an LRT levy in new communities that will never receive light rail service.

(...)That brings us to affordability, the forgotten issue in the argument over the new official plan. Constraining development land drives up its price and makes houses less affordable, that’s simple economics. The city is doubling down on that by strongly encouraging development near its LRT lines. That’s sensible, up to a point, but it will make that land the most expensive in the city.

It’s perhaps understandable that city planning staff did not see the need to defend the very concept of suburban growth when proposing a development plan that ambitiously increases intensification in a city that seldom welcomes it. That leaves the city plan open to attack from anti-growth activists, but it doesn’t make them right.

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