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The definitive but crazy guide to creating more affordable housing

Okay, so maybe this isn’t an entirely definitive guide. But the intent is to make this post a kind of working post. As new ideas emerge (from my end or from your ends), I will endeavor to update it, so that maybe one day it will become a bit more definitive. I also think it’s important to keep it a little crazy. Because housing affordability is clearly a tough problem to solve, so unless we start thinking differently and acting boldly, we may not get there.

Here goes.

  • Encourage new housing at all scales (low, mid, high)
  • “Upzone” all major streets and transit station areas
  • Allow multi-unit dwellings in low-rise neighborhoods and ensure that any applicable codes and/or policies are not creating unnecessary obstacles to building at this scale
  • Work to make the largest possible housing scale permissible on an as-of-right basis — that is, remove the rezoning process wherever possible and allow builders to go right to a building permit (a lengthy rezoning process can cost millions)
  • Avoid the use of inclusionary zoning policies that do not provide an equal offset or subsidy (such as a density bonus)
  • Ensure that any development charges and levies are commensurate with the burdens created by new housing and that existing property owners are funding their fair share through property taxes
  • Identify the areas that are NOT seeing new housing and then create incentives to make development feasible
  • Search for underutilized land and other opportunities to add new housing — no land parcel should be considered too small
  • Incentivize small-scale prototypes as a way to test out new ideas and foster innovation — specifically with respect to climate change and construction productivity
  • Eliminate all parking minimums – no ifs, ands, or buts
  • Depoliticize the planning process as much as possible — local politicians are not generally incentivized to encourage new housing
  • Eliminate the ability for individuals to block or significantly delay new housing
  • Ensure that there are enough staff to expeditiously review and process development and building permit applications — if builders are hiring “expediters” in the hopes of moving these things along, it means something is broken
  • Put in place strict response and issuance timelines for building permits
  • Bonus city staff (and anyone else who touches housing supply) based on the number of housing units approved and permitted each year
  • Design smaller and more urban-friendly garbage trucks so that less space is lost in every new housing development
  • Reduce/eliminate complex urban design guidelines, such as Toronto’s widely used 45-degree angular plane guideline

What is missing from this list? And/or what did I get wrong?

Last updated: July 25, 2022


  1. doug pollard

    You will, of course, get tons of reaction to this list but essentially it makes me think of affordability at all costs
    Having survived many of the processes you would like to eliminate and or reduce I know why you are suggesting that course of action but of course dropping all forms of control/public input and dropping things like the 45 degree rule totally (change the angle instead?) can lead to some pretty horrible living conditions. My image of the potential consequence is Hong Kong or any of the new Chinese “cities”…oops. Not what you intended for sure. PS Small garbage trucks (and trucks that can maneuver sideways etc.) already exist. The fire truck also needs room and we need big fire trucks (especially if we are building more highrise) unfortunately but at least usually they are mandated to go forward and not turn around. There are also garbage vacuum systems that eliminate the truck. One was proposed for Regent Park but not implemented. ie. there are often other approaches that can be investigated


  2. peter paauw

    review all emergency protocols and eliminate red tape, review the turning radius of emergency vehicles (over-generous), support one-way streets, and promote more angle parking and trees (lower long-term operating costs of infrastructure by reducing asphalt and decreasing wear and tear). Consider closing side roads to make superblocks (develop closed side roads).


  3. Ann McAfee

    Your “definitive but crazy guide to creating more affordable housing.” has the potential to increase choice and possibly moderate price increases BUT what insures the units are affordable to low income households? What about housing for support workers who clean and serve us to keep our towns and cities functioning? What about housing affordable to one wage earner households (single-parents and seniors)? Until housing is affordable and suitable for the 1.6 million Canadian households in Core Housing Need we will have a ‘housing problem’. Broaden the guide to consider ‘living wage’ rather than ‘minimum wage’ legislation and support housing with grants to increase affordability. The ‘answers’ need to be a combination of land use and social policy changes and market and non-market initiatives.


  4. Great idea. A few comments:
    Encouragement: Planners (and other city-building folks) should not use the word ‘encourage’ without being specific about what is intended. Too much policy starts and ends with ‘encourage’. How will you encourage X?

    Waste and recycling: beyond smaller trucks, why not take a block-by-block approach and use moloks or other partially underground containers shared by a city block? Collection can be done on street (no on-site space required) and does not burden individual developments. See notjustbikes’ video on garbage day in Amsterdam.

    Can you really ‘depoliticize’ the process? Maybe, but how? Is it changing what types of approvals go to Council or not (eg what is/isn’t as-of-right, what’s pre-zoned, etc)? Or is it changing the incentives?

    Bonusing staff based on units approved is an interesting idea, and there should be more incentives/reward for moving things forward, but this could have the perverse incentive of discouraging file managers from taking on more challenging applications, or creating situations where in spite of effective admin work, other factors (market, Council, servicing challenges) result in units not moving forward.

    I think you sort of cover this already, but creating a pipeline of small redevelopment that doesn’t require assembly is also important; goes beyond land use/approvals into thinking about how to get more small developers and builders into the market. This probably gets into financing, trades, etc. At the margin, how do you get some of the custom home builders to shift at least in part from doing high end single/semi-detached into the four floors and corner stores space, lot by lot.

    Understand that this list is intended (maybe?) to be focused on enabling market affordability, but might be also worth mentioning opening up public land and facilities; how can libraries, fire halls, rec centres, schools(?), etc become vertical mixed use with housing? Rethinking park+ride lots as well, of course. There’s the whole thing about converting office space as well, though that’s a bit of a grey area, it would seem.

    Might also be worth thinking about building code; out of my depth, but lots of discussion online about single-stair apartment blocks and rethinking the double-loaded corridor.

    Looking forward to seeing more on this!


  5. Cathy Lee

    I like your thinking. It’s a great idea to brainstorm ways to increase density. There’s one big area that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Change the stereotype of affordable housing.

    For some folks, all they can envision is that affordable housing leads to crime and lower property values. And so they lobby their local politicians to block “bad” change. And so, we get stuck in a stalemate where change is needed but not allowed.

    Not sure how to tackle this stereotype, but it’s a big reason for the resistance.

    The public needs to be shown how affordable housing and more density can be a wonderful thing for them. For example: Show other cities that have done it before us, and how those residents have benefited.

    Really, we need to:
    1. For folks resisting affordable housing, frame the situation and the proposed changes that clearly answers the “What’s in it for me?” (This is the WIFM rule.)
    2. Put a focus on “change management”, which will help the public come on board.

    Thank you Brandon. Always enjoy your articles.


  6. David

    love this. recommend numbering the list to make easier to comment on. for “Ensure that there are enough staff to expeditiously review and process development and building permit applications — if builders are hiring “expediters” in the hopes of moving these things along, it means something is broken” part of this could be making sure the permitting process is simple and the steps and requirements are clearly outlined.

    Liked by 1 person

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