HOW FOCUSING ON THE ‘MISSING MIDDLE’ WILL IMPROVE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY
The COVID-19 crisis is front of mind for all of us – but another emergency has been simmering for years: a shortage of affordable housing across the city. That problem has reached a crisis point where even mid-income households can have enormous difficulty finding a place to live. City council declared a housing crisis and emergency in January to help keep focus on this issue, and while we’ve had to turn attention to the pandemic, we still need to find ways to procure more housing.
Unlike the pandemic, there’s an obvious fix for the housing affordability crisis. Unfortunately, the quickest and simplest solution is to invest significantly in building more affordable housing units. And while we’re committed to that approach – investing $30 million in new units in just the past two years alone – the city only has so much money to go around.
The changes would affect the R4 zones in the city’s inner-urban wards. The thing is, low-rise apartment buildings with four or more units are already permitted in these areas, so these changes might seem unnecessary. The catch is that there are several outdated or inappropriate rules currently in place that deter or even prevent apartments for being built.
Take minimum lot sizes, for example. Right now, the rules require lots to be a certain size before you can build an apartment there. But that minimum size is too big – much bigger than needed to develop a perfectly functional apartment building. As a result, we wind up limiting where apartments can be built. In some R4 neighbourhoods, apartments wouldn’t even be allowed on 95 per cent of lots!
You can watch a short, animated video about R4 zoning at ottawa.ca/R4video but essentially, with small changes to the existing rules, we can encourage more infill in these existing communities. Of course, that might cause concern for existing residents, but the proposed changes do protect the character of those communities.
Most notably, the changes generally don’t alter the size of the buildings already permitted in the R4 zone. Under the revised rules, from the outside, new buildings would look largely the same as they would under current rules. The amendments would simply allow more density, encouraging eight to 12 apartment units within the same building envelope that’s already allowed.
Beyond that, the amendment we’re considering also provides clear direction about required design considerations, to help ensure new buildings have a look that’s consistent with the existing streetscape.
Story by: Ottawa Citizen