Housing is a Human Right

 

Our City shouldn’t have arbitrary barriers that prevent housing providers from building affordable housing. At the July 15th Public Hearing, council voted on a decision to amend bylaw 12800 to Reduce Regulatory Barriers to Collective and Permanent Supportive Housing. This amendment was recommended as a way of ensuring a variety of housing options are available to meet the needs of all Edmontonians. This includes different types of housing such as lodging type housing and permanent supportive housing like group homes. 

As of June 2019, there are 72 Lodging Houses, 80 Group Homes, and 261 Limited Group Homes registered in the city. There has been a great deal of analysis over the years that more than 20% affordable housing is generally the threshold where there may be impacts to areas like property value, social disorder, etc. As we need close to 50,000 units of affordable housing – ranging from permanent supportive housing (916 units) to slightly below (15%) market rental rates – it was determined that if every community across Edmonton had 16% affordable housing, we would be able to reach our goal. The long term strategy took a few years to develop but I believe it is quite good based on the analysis that went into it. Over the last few years, I’d actually suggest there hasn’t been a ‘build and dash’. This is for a couple of reasons: 1) the builders of affordable housing typically are required to provide supports and as such are there for the long-term. 2) The housing providers now regularly meet together to discuss their strengths and weaknesses and to coordinate their ask for dollars from the provincial and federal governments.

The changes made are not as major as I think they may have been portrayed and I’ll use an example to explain that. The Jasper Place Wellness Centre wants to build three 12 unit homes each on a 50′ lot. These were be permanent supportive housing units similar to their 30 unit building Canora Place. Under the previous rules, they would not be allowed to build three units because there was a restriction of only two units per block. But if they simply rezoned to the RA7 (apartment) zone, which is allowed under the Jasper Place ARP, they would be able to build a fairly large building similar to Canora Place. Therefore the current regulation seems flawed because they could have a similarly sized building with likely more units and yet that would only count as one supportive housing unit on the block which means someone could do another building of equal size on the same block. But they still need to met provincial standards and have compliance standards from the city as well. The major change is that we aren’t regulating who should be living in a building and instead we are regulating the land use. It’s also very important to note that the community was very much in support of this and was closely involved in the process. This also makes this a great example of what can be done when communities work together to solve problems for their residents. 

As always, I welcome your feedback and encourage everyone to review the strategy and subsequent policies. Safe, adequate and affordable housing is fundamental to the physical, economic and social well-being of individuals, families and communities, and we are committed to ensuring that unnecessary barriers don’t prevent these forms of housing from getting built in the first place. 

I’d like to thank the Glenwood Community League for supporting this housing proposal in their community. Every community should have affordable and supportive housing for their residents and it’s great to see this community be so welcoming.

The following amendment recommendations were passed:

Removing Section 76 – Lodging Houses

Removing this section would no longer limit the number of individuals who could reside in a Lodging House. It would remove any restrictions on the type of building design appropriate for a Lodging House and the need for the building to resemble the surrounding residential development. Increases in traffic demand would not be a consideration for approval by Development Approval staff

Removing Section 79 – Group Homes and Limited Group Homes

Section 79 describes special land use regulations on Group Homes and Limited Group Homes. The proposed changes remove any restrictions on the number of residents permitted in a Group Home or Limited Group Home. Like Lodging Houses, the changes would remove any restrictions on the type of building design appropriate for these two housing uses and the need for the building to resemble the surrounding residential development. Increases in traffic demand would not be a consideration for approval by Development Approval staff

Removing Section 96 – Thresholds for Fraternity and Sorority Housing, Group Homes, Limited Group Homes and Lodging Houses

Section 96 established the maximum number of Fraternity and Sorority Housing, Group Homes, Limited Group Homes or Lodging Houses to 2 facilities per block, 3 per 1000 people per neighbourhood, 12 residents per opposing block face where Group Homes is a discretionary use or 30 residents per block face where Group Homes is a Permitted Use. The amendments would remove these limits however there would still be opportunities for post-approval notifications and opportunities to appeal to the Subdivision Development and Appeal Board if the use is listed as discretionary in the applicable zone

Changing the definition of “Limited Group Home”

The definition of “Limited Group Home” is proposed to be revised to state that the use should be located in a freestanding structure that is purpose- built or wholly converted for that purpose. For example, this revision would require a Limited Group Home project to completely convert a Single Detached House, or semi-Detached House, or any other building such as a small church to that use. This allows more than a Single Detached House to be converted to a Limited Group Home use (what is currently permitted) but also ensures that building types such as Semi-Detached and Row Housing are wholly used for the Limited Group Home purpose. 

 

 

 

 

Written by A. Knack and K. Machin

1 Comment

  1. Michael on July 24, 2019 at 9:53 am

    I’m not sure Council realizes how significant these changes are. I’m sorry, I don’t think your assessment is correct. You said, an affordable housing developer wants to build “three 12 unit homes each on a 50′ lot. … similar to [the] 30 unit building Canora Place” and if they “simply rezoned to the RA7 (apartment) zone, which is allowed under the Jasper Place ARP” a much larger building would be allowed.”

    First of all, a re-zoning a parcel of land to a higher use is not nothing. If it were just a simple thing the city would have stacks of permits, one stack for each zone and developers would just come into Edmonton Tower and fill in the address on the new zone they wished to have. Re-zoning requires technical advice to plan for access, transportation needs, utility needs such as power, gas, sewer, water, drainage, telecomunications, life safety, social services, park needs, school needs, land use mixes, etc. A rezoning is Council using its power to designate the intensity by which land will be best used to serve the common good. Up zoning increases development rights for an owner. Every decision Council makes to up-zone increases land value which dictates what will be built and what won’t, since the value of land and its most likely use is based on the highest and best rent that a landowner can earn from their land. Obviously they can earn more rent from a 30 dwelling building than they can from three two-dwelling buildings (Assuming maximum density with a single detached home with secondary suite), and they can earn even more from three facilities with 12 sleeping-units than they can from three two-dwelling buildings.

    As long as supply and demand still drive markets, developers who buy low density lots and build lodging houses will push up the price of those lots and out compete single detached uses in high poverty areas. In areas with high rents from wealthy families this pressure will not exist, however in areas where there is a weak market for family housing because of the social chaos, the most able buyer for larger bungalows and victorian style two story homes will become Dr. Seuss style lodging house with people packed in like sardines. People in closets and in utility rooms and in every corner of the basement without fire exits and the city will be impotent to keep up with them and impotent to address the challenge in a meaningful one-off way. Council had the tools to both welcome significant new, well managed, and regulated lodging houses and group homes but council decided to throw those tools out so if and when neighbours complain about the chaos that is created by unregulated flop houses, please don’t say you didn’t know – you were told. That said, if this developer followed the same process as every other developer and did in fact rezone with or without the help of the city, he would be allowed to build 30 units in this location. Keep in mind the best practice research suggest that 12 unit supportive housing developments spread throughout a city and not clustered three per block is the best practice. I mean what is the point of developments that fit on regular lots if developers are lining a street with them. It is probably more cost efficient to build one 30 unit building. As far as I can see, there is no requirement to build more than two developments per block. If Council really desired three or more developments on a single block, for whatever reason, the site could be rezoned as DC2.

    In the poorest areas, lots will be developed using government money into flop houses like prior to the bylaws being in effect. Wanna be suburban real estate tycoons and the edges of organized crime will repurpose larger homes suitable for larger immigrant families for substandard housing where no rent controls exist. The most desperate will have their AISH checks nearly completely confiscated for a single room and no services – but that was found money anyway so who cares, right? In fact the more people who fail to stay sober and well and the more they stay addicted or fall back into addiction when they are triggered by the chaos around them, the greater the profits will be for slum landlords who will turn over tenants as fast as they can to keep an extra months rent and hold another government paid down payment. If we throw money at anyone who claims to be offering affordable housing after we gave away the only municipal tool we had to ensure it was in fact what is stated, we will not get far on addressing peoples need for dignity or for safe housing.

    Rules need to allow the good providers and stop the bad providers. If we tell ourselves we are only concerned about building housing and unconcerned with social planning that such housing facilitates, if we disregard social equity because we are convinced we serve a human right to slum housing, we give up on mixed and complete communities that make space for for everyone. It sounds nice but it just isn’t the case. In order to get any difficult problem right we need proximity to the issue. These problems will not be solved by well intentioned people up in their ivory tower – it requires real consultation with the range of expertise that is connected to these challenges. Council can’t shrug off the responsibility for social cohesion and a growing income disparity or the spatially segregated concentration of poverty. If government abandons this realm, the rich will ensure they are not burdened by the problems of the poor.

    It is often misquoted that planning is concerned with the use but not the user. This is not an admonishment of planning for users, it is an admonishment against giving preferential treatment to one user when both uses are the same. The actual quote originates from a case where a county planning office gave permission to a widow to live in a summer village even though no one else was allowed to since she was on hard times and then upon her death when her property was sold the new owner expected to use the property year round was told he could not. The courts ruled that either a use is allowed or it is not, you must regulate the use, not the user. There was nothing arbitrary about these rules. They were based on differences in land use with startling life safety differences when unregulated. They matched a consistent density rational. They passed the Oaks test regarding Human rights and were designed to allow all the housing that is necessary but not allow concentrations that are deemed to be so much that it harms the interests of residents being housed in a residential environment, the community, or the city’s ability to ensure inclusion of housing in all areas.

    If not managed, as it is now, the market’s solution follows the golden rule, that ‘Him with the gold makes the rules.’ This decision may have been well intentioned but theory and practice says it will continue to concentrate wealth and concentrate poverty to the detriment of the common good. The result of concentrated poverty is higher net housing costs for the poor, higher net policing costs, lower net property values, lower academic outcomes, higher gang recruitment, lower addiction recovery rates, etc etc. This is not the type of feedback loop we want in a housing system.

    Second, if a plan says RA7 but the current zone is not RA7, then the City has the power to rezone it for the owner, or support the owners rezoning application when the owner brings their rezoning application to Council. Changing definitions is not the tool to increase densities in a zoning bylaw. I’m surprised the administration would recommend this course of action. I’m more surprised that Council considers it good advice when a Senior Planner who is on a board of an inner city housing corporation, that earns it’s revenue from developing inner city housing, proposes such radical changes without talking to anyone involved in developing the regulations, without any evidence that it is a successful approach elsewhere, based solely on a single case that could be solved countless other ways. I am surprised that council does not ask hard questions or do their due diligence before accepting significant bylaw changes.

    It is not good practice to eliminate an entire set of regulations because one developer wants to do one very specific thing and is constrained in that rather unusual proposal. Andrew, are you aware of other jurisdictions that have been successful in allowing enhanced density rights to a specific developer (however good their mission might be) by changing definitions that affect an entire city? Are you aware of what some of the unintended consequences are that are created in the process? When we change definitions so that lower intensity zones accommodate higher intensity uses, it effectively up-zones all low density areas for a very specific use, both those with higher density plans in place and also those without.

    The purpose of the limit of two sites per block was that on a residential block more than two Major Group Homes begins to make the block institutional. No one has made an argument for why 3 sites is justifiable. The reason for 2 lots on a 10 lot block is that it represents 20% of the houses on the block and even if we assume every house on the block has a main suite and a secondary suite and we allow three 12 unit buildings the institutional housing now makes up 69% of the block or 36 of 52 housing units. On a micro scale that is 4.3 times the 16% target. Two sites would represent 60% of the units and one 12 unit site would represent 43% of the units. When I add 12+12+12 it equals 36 which is 6 more than 30 so it’s actually the opposite of what was stated in your post. The developer may have actually been given greater density than if they had up-zoned. Furthermore, if council deemed it a good land use mix to have three congregate living facilities next to each other there are a bunch of ways to make this legal without eliminating all of the definitions and regulations that, by and large have been working. If Council believes that 70%+ of residential units on a block in a residential neighbourhood is in fact a good mix than many better policy options are available, including making all congregate living uses permitted in low density areas. Again, I would like to see the research that supports this outcome, preferably before such proposals get rubber stamped by council.

    I suppose, now that we have no rules about the number of units on a block or blockface, or thresholds within a neighbourhood, and no requirement to consider traffic impact or life safety, or measures to ensure that a lodging house for 40 hard-to-house individuals isn’t built next to one of the family homes in your riding. Perhaps now that the new LRT is creating TOD areas council will up-zone these areas according to city guidelines, and residents will embrace fully permitted and fully unregulated flop houses of any size. I can just imagine the juxtaposition of such a development by a for profit developer like Carman Pervez next to a family home that formerly was excited to have LRT near by. Can anyone just rent a home now and then re rent it as a lodging house, they will generate far higher rents than the owner who thought they were renting to a family as per the homes intended design? I hope those are not the private public solutions we are so excited to have solve our difficult problems.

    Managing this complex issue poorly risks creating a flash point for conflict in neighbourhoods, causing Edmontonian’s, much more broadly than is even justified under the new laissez faire approach council has adopted, to oppose this use in their neighbourhood. The wealthy in Windsor Park, Garneau, Belgravia, Crestwood, Highlands, Westmount and Glenora can oppose uncontrolled lodging houses as discretionary uses, while poor apartment zoned areas along 107 Ave, 149 St, 118 Ave etc, can allow 50 unit or 100 unit warehouses for the poor. City stats showed Lodging Houses and Group Homes had 4 times more fires than single detached homes but because of their higher numbers of sleeping units the residents were 10 times as likely to be in a fire. Average numbers of police calls and bylaw complaints were vastly different when comparing congregate living versus single detached housing. What is the plan to address these ‘unintended consequences’? If council creates a Frankenstein people will run away from it screaming and the good intention will result in far less support for this sort of science going forward. The wealthy will have tools to fight any form of lodging or group home in their low density neighbourhoods and will find clever ways to do just that since they don’t have anything else to do anyways. Once they get their first unsatisfying operator they will employ their communities abundant community to ensure no more attempts are made. After hearing a horror story or two from a neighbour who has moved away from the chaos of our ghettos, or has worked for any time in the healthcare or social service field serving those stuck in our ghettos, i’ve heard these stories. Welcoming neighbours become far less open to even a good operator like Murray. Good or bad operators learn the cost of doing business in rich neighbourhoods, they instead turn their gaze to poor communities with less means to cause trouble for them. Once again poverty becomes further concentrated, such that the city’s most hurting live nearly exclusively in institutional campuses like Boyle neighbourhood where housing is either agency housing or slum housing. Those being the two primary options in a one dimensional, poverty segregated community. This outcome is worse than the purpose built institutions that we emancipated the mentally ill from in the 1990’s. But we won’t talk about who is being housed or their needs.

    But who needs reasons to changing reasonable laws when we can rely on slogans. Even if we no longer even know where we got the slogan from or what it was addressing, or who it applied to in the first place.

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