Day 1 | Bringing People Back: Housing

Day 1 | Bringing People Back: Housing

The lack of housing in Canada affects all aspects of urban life. Homelessness has become especially visible in our downtowns, as shelters and support services are unable to meet the needs of unhoused communities, and the number of encampments continue to increase throughout cities. How can our downtowns adapt to include appropriate housing options for all?

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary W. Rowe [00:00:05] Now we’re going to talk about bringing people back. So housing is obviously critical to bringing people back and then immediately following it will be transit. So Frances Bulus is joining us. Frances Bula is joining us from the Globe and Mail. Very appreciative to have the Globe’s support of this project, but also, particularly Frances, who’s had her own experience with housing. Just saying great series on the experiment that you were doing on your own property. But you and I have known each other for many years. You’ve been tracking urban affairs for years in the West, and so you, of all people, know well how critical housing is to this sort of equation of how the cities are going to recover in particular, so I’m going to pass it to you and then you have a number of folks to assist you in this session. And we look forward to hearing everything about housing. So and housing and downtown. So welcome. Thanks for joining us. 


Frances Bula [00:00:45] Great, no this is very exciting. I’m looking forward to learning lots of things. I see that they’re posting the bios in the chat so that I don’t have to do a lot of that. You can just read people’s bios in the chat. I think we’re all really interested in this because of the way that we see housing interacting with the downtown vibrancy. I think, you know, early results showed that you know, downtowns that were very kind of uni, homogenous and only had one purpose, which was business and offices and then entertaining tourists. They suffered more than downtowns that maybe had a bit more residential around them. There was also, you know, many this is not news to anyone. Downtowns really became very noticeable when they didn’t have tourists and suburban visitors and office workers there that they started to feel different. Whether we agree with it or not, whether we like it or not. For some people, it felt very intimidating to be in downtowns because they felt emptier and it felt like there were more homeless and poor people that made them uncomfortable. And so I think that and especially as people aren’t sure how office repopulation is going to work out, there’s a lot of discussion of maybe converting office space in some downtowns to housing, especially in Calgary. Which I think currently has maybe a 25 percent office vacancy rate downtown. So lots of really interesting opinions and facts that we’re going to hear and solutions and suggestions. So I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I thought about alphabetical order or west to east or whatever, but I decided to do a really weird random thing. So I hope this isn’t a surprise to everyone, but I’m going to start with Steve Paynter and then I’m going to go to Tim afterwards. So Steve Paynter, who’s the regional design resilience leader for Gensler or is it chancellor kind of like gif and jif? I’m not sure. 


Stephen Paynter [00:03:15] A “g”.


Frances Bula [00:03:19] I’ll let you start off. I have no idea what Steven is going to say, but I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. So go ahead. 


Stephen Paynter [00:03:28] Do I have any idea what I’m going to say? That’s the question. So thanks for the introduction and the invite. I’m Stephen Paynter. You said I’m regional resiliency leader for Gensler, which is the world’s largest architecture and interior design firm. Over the past two years, basically since the start of the pandemic. We’ve been really focused on what we can do about downtowns, how we can create 20-minute cities and a lot of studies, and we actually built some algorithms that can help determine which office buildings are viable or would be commercially viable to convert into residential with the aim really of helping our clients diversify their risk, but also help our cities become more vibrant and not solely, you know, commercial. And as you said in your introduction, a little bit scary when there’s no one down there. 


Frances Bula [00:04:30] OK. Did you want to expand on that at all? 


Stephen Paynter [00:04:35] I didn’t know if you wanted to do other people’s introductions first, but yeah, happy to. 


Frances Bula [00:04:39] No we’re not. We’re like…


Stephen Paynter [00:04:41] OK.


Frances Bula [00:04:42] Go ahead and say your piece and then we’ll have some conversation afterwards. 


Stephen Paynter [00:04:47] Yeah, absolutely. So the algorithm that we’ve built over the last two years and we actually assisted the City of Calgary and in kind of scoring and assessing all their downtown office buildings is really designed to say, Okay, you know, if we’re not seeing a return to office and especially if we’re not seeing a return to the lower grade kind of Class C offices, as I’m sure the Avison Young data you have just seen on the previous talk demonstrated that. And then what can we do with them? And you know, we are judging things like call to window depth number of elevators, and the algorithm actually says, OK, this is going to be good, that the units are going to be proportioned nicely and they’re going to have a good ceiling height, they are going to have the right number of elevators or the right parking ratio. So these are the projects worth looking at versus the ones that really aren’t. Those are going to have your deep, dark, unusable units. So in the study, we did in Calgary, we found that it was about 30 percent of the office buildings in that city, and it’s worked so far. It seems that’s the same for most cities. About 30 percent of them make really good, viable conversion candidates because they have the right kind of floor plate size of the right kind of building. And if we can do that and we can convert those, we can convert them for different uses, we can have a really genuine impact on how the city functions. And in Calgary, they actually then put together a seventy-five dollar per square foot grant to encourage more developers to take these conversion projects on. And that kind of changed the bar from about 30 percent working to nearly 50 percent. So in Calgary alone, that was about three and a half million square feet of buildings that we could convert, which is about 8000 residential units that we could create. And depending on the type of building the location of the building, what they would be converting to changes. So some of them would be condos. The larger floor plate buildings that we looked at were much more suitable for affordable housing because we could create wider units, slightly larger units and, you know, change the mix of amenity, change the mix of access and things like that. So really what we found through that development and we scored, you know, 250 buildings, something like that now, was it we could do basically anything that we needed for housing. But it had to be in really specific building types. 70s buildings, for example, were generally scoring quite well. But that it was kind of very, very detailed on creating spaces that people would want to live in, not just doing conversions for conversion sake. 


Frances Bula [00:07:35] Right, so that’s kind of like a very much the building approach, did anyone in your company or were their affiliated consultants who looked at what would this do for the downtown? Who was most likely to take this up? Would it have any impact on future possibilities for offices like did people look at those other issues? 


Stephen Paynter [00:07:59] Yeah, absolutely. And what we found with the metrics and analytics we did with some of the brokers as well is if you could provide that mix of use, the nearby office buildings that remained actually became more valuable, not least because there was people around and it made the area seem more vibrant, more interesting. It also meant that you got all of the services that come with that you got there from a retail point of view, you got more successful retail, you got more restaurants. And from a city point of view, you started to see enough population growth to have schools, to have libraries to have, you know, other cultural things, even having more parks. Part of what Calgary is doing is investing money in the conversions. But also then, you know, three times, that amount of money and bringing the services and the cultural things with it. And so it has it, you know, as anyone knows, who’s been to a really good mixed-use city center. The impact isn’t just housing, it’s the people that come with that housing that then start to feed the life of the city and create a better space so that impacts everything else or impacts everything else in the downtown core. 


Frances Bula [00:09:10] Yeah, it would be fascinating if someone would do the data report on how much residential there is within a certain range of different downtowns. Because I know at the Globe I did a story with another reporter where we compared Robson Street in Vancouver to Queen Street West and Toronto, and Rob’s in retail was doing better because there is so much more residential around it. So a lot of people who were shopping on Robson, which is normally quite a tourist street were people who just lived nearby in the West End, Yaletown. And my guess is Calgary has very little of that. 


Stephen Paynter [00:09:49] Yeah, and very, very little. And you can see that on the GIS maps. There’s very little residential downtown and we’re actually, separate from the housing thing. We’re seeing out-of-town retail being very successful here, and I’m sat in Runsen Village right now, Runsen Ville’s High Street does not have an empty store on it. But if you go downtown, there’s a 40-50 percent vacancy rate in retail and it’s really because of where the population is. 


Frances Bula [00:10:15] Yeah. So I’m sure there’s some interesting back and forth later on on this and someone’s asking if these office buildings can be made into affordable housing. But I’m going to move on to Tim next, who will have a different perspective on how you know how housing in downtowns interact after really years of work with homelessness, first in Calgary and then nationally. So, Tim, let’s hear what you have to say about this interaction of housing and downtowns and what needs to be done. 


Tim Richter [00:10:51] For sure. Well, thank you for the opportunity. Great to meet everyone. Lovely to be on this on this call. I think first I just want to say that I am calling in from Calgary, which is Treaty Seven Territory home of the Blackfoot Confederacy. This suits into the Nakoda Nations and the Metis Region Three. Thank you all for welcoming me here. You know, I think the main point I’d like to make and maybe a bit of a challenge for folks that are on this call, but my challenge in my plea is for urban leadership to restore downtowns. And I’ll tell you why. Homelessness is a solvable problem. Mass homelessness that you see today hasn’t always been with us. It really began in the 80s, accelerated in the 90s to become the disaster that it is today. And my plea for leadership is simply this if you look at any city, anywhere around the world where they have had success tackling homelessness, there is one thing they all have in common and that’s leadership, strong local leadership. Sometimes that’s the mayor and the City Council and other times, places like Edmonton, Calgary it’s a nonprofit like Edmonton that’s Homeward Trust they’ve reduced almost overall homelessness by about 40 percent, which is the best of any major city in Canada. And I think that at the heart of this is just to build off of a point Stephen made is really about building inclusive cities where there is a place for everyone. In homelessness, as I said, leadership is key. And the reason is, you know, homelessness is one of these issues. That is I refer to it as the political equivalent of a high school dance because it doesn’t belong in any jurisdiction. Really, there’s no clear jurisdiction related. So all levels of government, you know, stand along the walls like teenagers at a dance and stare at their feet waiting for somebody to make the first move. And in this case, city leaders, anywhere you’ve seen success strong and determined, and I would say daring local leaders are the key to making it work. And so people often say to me, Well, OK, then how does the city, how does the city end homelessness? How do we take that leadership role when it’s not in our jurisdiction and to tackle homelessness in an urban center. It is the template is actually exactly the same as a municipal disaster response plan, right? You have a command center, you make sure that you have all of the right, all of the key players around the table, those that provide the housing, the health care system, the front line organizations, city leaders, others united around a common data and a clear aim, which is the elimination of homelessness. And if you look at any disaster, the first job is keeping people safe. The next job is getting them back into housing quickly. The third job that often happens all at the same time is preventing new people from becoming homeless. And, you know, in that in that process, if you look at any disaster that’s happened and there have been plenty of examples lately, right, where you know, a good example on my parents, where I live in Kelowna in a fire in 2003, they were evacuated, went to the evacuation center. They got their name was taken. They were put up in a hotel. They were kept safe. And then they worked with local officials to get back into their home. Right. And then you see in Kelowna measures that have been taken to prevent a fire from having, you know, having that impact. I mean, it’s a dramatic oversimplification, but there is a vital role for urban leaders. The second thing, the other point I make is just on housing. Again, municipal leaders play a vital role in that housing. Senior levels of government are key, but like in a disaster, senior levels of government have to come together with local leaders to build that support and so that housing the big things I would aim to talk about on housing is a way to stop the loss of rental housing. So the financialization of market rental housing is gutting our rental housing markets. We’re losing. I saw one stat from Ottawa saying that they’re losing 15 units for every 1 that’s been added, there’s no possible way for us to build our way out of the affordable housing deficit if we don’t keep the hole from getting bigger. Second thing is, we have to be, there has to be way more production nationally and provincially. In Canada and in the mid-eighties, we were producing twenty-five thousand units of housing per year. The entire National Housing Strategy is aiming to produce one hundred and twenty-five. That is not going to fix it, so we’re going to have to be way more ambitious and we need a really strong market housing sector as well. So the market, rental housing and ownership, so you know, that’s ending homelessness and we’re starting downtowns in housing. Two minutes or less three maybe? Well, I’ll leave it there for the others to jump in. 


Frances Bula [00:16:23] OK. Just one quick follow up, I’d have thought maybe if I know it seems really obvious, but if you could say why it matters to downtowns to deal with this, like I know it’s obvious, but tell people what the, what the postcard says. 


Tim Richter [00:16:40] Well, I think that, you know, I am going to steal a line, I’m really good at stealing lines from other people, so I sound much more clever than I am. But the United Way in Calgary had a tagline, “for a city to be truly great, It has to be great for everyone.” And I think it’s important that we create inclusive spaces where lower-income folks can live and prosper and thrive alongside middle and higher-income people in the community. And you know, a community is not homogenous by income or race or any of these other descriptions. It’s a place where we all have an opportunity to live and thrive and be home. Today you know, we are in an absolutely terrifying scenario where we have multiple compounding crises impacting the most vulnerable in our society. We have, you know, an overdose crisis, a housing crisis. We have a global pandemic all on top. And you see that playing out in our streets and we have people that are at risk of death from homelessness or at risk of death for no other reason than they don’t have a place to go home. Like. 


Frances Bula [00:18:02] Oh, thank you so much, Tim. I’m going to go now to Michael Brooks for a different perspective, different coming from a different corner. The CEO of Real Pac, is an expert in commercial investment I think. You can tell us more. So go ahead with your view on all of this. 


Michael Brooks [00:18:31] Thanks, Frances, so Real PAC is a national organization, trade association for institutional real estate, all asset classes, seniors, hotels, apartments, offices and we have a very active membership. And so I see all of the issues that we’ve talked about so far. Steve and I used to do condo conversions back in the early 90s, and they told me back then it was no cheaper than building ground up. So there’s an issue there. Tim, you’re doing fantastic work. I follow you and it’s such a difficult problem. And Frances, you know my perspective. Yeah, I’m on the private sector side of it, but I’m on the board of Toronto Foundation and we do a lot of work around impact investing our Vital Signs Report. It’s kind of a go to Bible of the problems we’re having in the GTA, and I’ve been on the board also of Eva’s Initiatives, which is a shelter for homeless youth in Toronto. So I’ve seen it from those perspectives and I agree with Stephen. It’s actually worse now, I think, than it was before the pandemic. It’s continuing to get worse and we all, I think, need to be involved in the solution, even the private sector. And so from the private sector’s point of view, maybe I’ll just deal with the multifamily space we’d love to get more purpose built, rental built. That’s really kind of my main push these days with the federal minister Minister Hussen. With the province and our submissions to their affordable housing task force, we just think we need a lot more supply of purpose built rental to enter the market and try to find ways to make that pencil out. I do hear that for a lot of our members with high land prices in the GTA, they can’t make it pencil. Even without a subsidy, they can’t quite make it work. So a lot of stuff is on the edge on that side. And yeah, we need to talk about ways to get some more affordable housing in the private sector’s development activities. Inclusionary zoning was kind of a forced thing, I think useful. It remains to be seen whether it’s so impactful on performance that people can’t proceed, I’m hoping it won’t. But we need to be able to try to find a way, one way or the other, to keep that going. And we really do have some great builders operating. I would take one issue, Tim, if I might with your comments and I of course have been fighting back on everybody in the industry being targeted with that financialization of housing label, even going so far as to pick on the REITs which makes no sense to me. I think the challenge we have, Frances, we have a challenge in figuring out the balance between naturally occurring affordable housing and the need to upgrade all these 70s and 80s buildings. And where is that balance point? And I think, Tim, you’re referring to Steve Pomeroy’s research about we’re losing the bottom end because developers or owners are buying it up, fixing it up and renting it out at a higher rent. And yet, what’s the alternative? Do we let those buildings degrade? That’s my challenge. I’d love to find a solution to that, and we need to sit across the table from people like Tim and his colleagues to figure out how do we all get on the same page here? 


Frances Bula [00:22:22] Yeah, no, that’s such an interesting question, I happen to live in an area of town that has lots of low rise three and four storey apartment buildings, it’s really close to the hospital district. It provides a key band of housing for people who work at Vancouver General or downtown. And it is really important. I don’t want to preempt Tim, but there is a big push by non-profits to buy those buildings instead of having REITs by them. So then you can operate them at a slightly lower price point than someone who needs to generate a profit, even a low one. I keep hearing the cap rate these days is only three percent, but it’s still three percent. So that is, I think what the nonprofits are saying is one of the solutions. But for sure, I know Vancouver is struggling very much with that if they’re going to support all these businesses moving back downtown. Amazon and I can’t even remember all the tech firms. I don’t, I can’t retain their names because I’m old. But you know, if, if there isn’t housing provided for them, they’re going to end up pushing out the nurses and the home care workers and the Starbucks employees and so on. So that’s interesting. And maybe we can get into that a bit more when we have time to talk, which is going to be in 10 minutes, I hope, after the next two speakers. So next, I’m going to go to Steve in Toronto, where you work with, I believe, an indigenous organization that focuses on housing and homelessness, if I’m correct. 


Steve Teekens [00:24:06] Yes, that’s right. So good afternoon, everyone. A pleasure to be here. I’m the executive director of Na-Me-Res. So there’s my bio there and I have a little presentation I’m going to share. So just a little overview on Na-Me-Res. We provide shelter outreach services as well as housing to indigenous people in Toronto experiencing homelessness. 


Steve Teekens [00:24:29] So as Tim mentioned earlier, the cure housing, the homelessness is housing right, but it has to be adequate housing. If you look at this photo, I don’t think anybody on this panel would want to live in this kind of housing. But for many of our relatives, that live in First Nations communities. This is the reality. And, you know, indigenous people in many cases have faced a decade-long reserve and growing urban housing crisis in Canada. We’re living in Third World conditions. It’s just in our own backyards. 


Steve Teekens [00:25:04] Your 17 studies that date back from 1934 to its closest 2017 identify a looming indigenous housing crisis. And these are government-commissioned reports our federal government at work highlighting the problem, but haven’t really done much to fix it. 


Steve Teekens [00:25:25] So again, to show more evidence, the Globe and Mail cataloged from 1959 to 2011 404 articles that highlight the story of indigenous housing being in a crisis point in many of our communities, from coast to coast to coast. And the source of this was from Dr. Yale D. Belanger, who did a really good job of highlighting indigenous housing crisis across the country. In the urban context, indigenous people, the majority of us, at least in Ontario, and I’m sure in other jurisdictions, 80 percent of indigenous people in Ontario live in urban settings. It’s not like we live in First Nation communities or rural communities. In Ontario, Toronto has the largest urban indigenous population in the province, as well as other major centers across all the provinces in this country. For indigenous people and many of our urban centers and our downtowns, the percentage of indigenous homelessness can be as high as 90 percent or as in Toronto, it’s 15 percent. These numbers are very disproportionate, and it just shows that the evidence I shared with you of our government sleeping at the wheel and not addressing a crisis for indigenous people in this country. Now, I know recently, housing was recognized as a human right with the infusion of the National Housing Strategy Act that was introduced in recent times in April 2019. But when the National Housing Strategy was promised by a federal government was it three elections ago, now they also promised a National Indigenous Housing Strategy. 


Steve Teekens [00:27:24] In this next slide, I’ll show you what it looks like. Well, there it is. That’s right. It’s a blank screen. That’s what our government promised three years ago, and this is what they’ve delivered three terms ago, rather. 


Steve Teekens [00:27:38] So for you know, indigenous people, we really need some real affordable housing strategy that will speak to making affordability for people who have overcome many barriers and obstacles. You know, in Canada and now what we need is an actual National Indigenous Housing Strategy that will reconcile indigenous homelessness. We need more culturally appropriate and diverse indigenous-led programs and services that will help indigenous people. We need more indigenous governed and led shelters, not religiously affiliated ones. With this pandemic, I know reconciliation is starting to make a comeback again, at least on the social consciousness of Canadians. And you know, we learned about the damage that religious organizations have done to indigenous peoples for generations. So we don’t need any more religious-affiliated shelters or homeless programs to help indigenous people. What we need is more indigenous-led or Indigenous by Indigenous. So I’m going to leave it at that. I know I’m no stranger to dealing with NIMBYism, at least in Toronto, when we set up housing. But the added component that I have to deal with, usually when we want to set up a new housing project in any given neighborhood is racism. And that’s something that a lot of non-Indigenous organizations do not have to deal with when they’re required to have a statutory, you know, community session to let neighbors know what the intent is for their properties. So, you know, I really don’t enjoy doing community consultations because I usually know that I’m going to experience racism in those forums and they can be potentially damaging and harmful. Additionally, a new form of NIMBYism that seems to crop up is this idea of heritage designations and some of the downtown core. The problem with heritage designations when it comes to indigenous groups that want to set up a property in a neighbourhood or have an interest in the neighbourhood is usually the only heritage that gets honored as colonial heritage. It’s not Indigenous. If people are really valued heritage so much, maybe we look beyond the colonial heritage and so the heritage that predates that time. So, you know, we really need to put efforts in place to stop forms of NIMBYism, such as racism, racist ideologies, heritage designations and things like that. Indigenous people going to we’re a growing population. If we continue to ignore the problem of homelessness and the lack of housing for indigenous people, the problem is just going to exacerbate. And so we absolutely need more Indigenous affordable housing and urban centers. So going to stop the share and thank you for this opportunity. 


Frances Bula [00:30:36] Thank you so much, Steve. Yeah. And there’s a lot of indigenous housing projects going up these days in Vancouver. Some really interesting things done by Marcel Swain at the Lu’ma Housing Society. And you are starting to see like residents kind of kick back against the NIMBYism and particularly come out to support Indigenous projects, which is very encouraging because, yeah, as you say, there’s many more in urban settings and close typically close to downtowns than in small towns or rural areas. Bob, I’m going to let you bring the train home or whatever the appropriate metaphor is here, and then we’ll have a few minutes for conversation. There’s been some interesting comments and questions in the chat, so I hope we can get to a few of those. Go ahead, Bob. Who is the chief economist for the CMHC in case any of you four hundred people didn’t know that? 


Bob Dugan [00:31:39] Hey, thank you so much. So, so let me start by acknowledging that I am joining you from Ottawa, which is the traditional territory of the Algonquin Annishnaabe people. And I’d also like to recognize that, you know, the description of this session brings up the very important issue of homelessness. And you know, to me, homelessness is a complex issue and it goes well beyond just discussing housing. So I want to just humbly admit that, you know, the perspectives that I’m going to share with you are more about market housing in our cities, and I don’t pretend to be offering solutions that deal with the problems of homelessness. So I just want to be upfront about that. You know, the pandemic has really had an impact on the economy and housing markets in unexpected ways. And you know, the bulk of the adverse impact that we’ve seen was really concentrated in lower income households and on jobs that were unable to adapt to remote working. And so, you know, workers in restaurants and hotels, for example, were predominantly impacted. On the other hand, higher income, professionals, you know, suffered much less income and employment interruption during the pandemic, and these higher paid folks were able to add to their savings during the pandemic and many opted to move. And so what we saw was, unlike past recessions, the recession brought on by the pandemic was really accompanied by strong growth in housing demand and house prices, which is very different than what we expected when we put out a forecast early on during the pandemic. And you know, much of this demand for housing was motivated by the pandemic itself. So we saw a lot of folks that want to get away from higher density living arrangements, such as downtown condos, in favor of less dense housing in order to reduce their potential exposure to the coronavirus. People also wanted more living space, you know, in their homes to accommodate the fact that they had to set up home offices because they were working remotely and they had their children at home that had to be home schooled during the lockdowns. And so they needed more personal space and were favoring more low density housing as opposed to higher density housing such as condos and downtown areas. And many households were working remotely during the pandemic and therefore no longer facing daily commutes into the office. And this really had an impact in terms of where people were able to move and people moved further away and as opposed to, you know, looking for homes in downtown areas, many of them headed to suburban areas and rural communities. Now when you look at Stats Can data on population, you can see that they confirmed that many urban centers across the country saw population declines during the pandemic. Now, however, we are seeing evidence that this the housing markets are recovering in some of these areas that were impacted by that exodus. And that’s a sign that there’s a reversal that’s beginning to take hold. Now what question looking forward is will population trends fully revert to these pre-pandemic patterns? So in other words, will people move back downtown? And that’s really a hard one to say. You know, it depends to a large degree on things like the openness of employers and employees, for that matter, to maintain these remote working arrangements that were common during the pandemic after the pandemic subsides. So that will be, you know, an important, you know, aspect as to whether people can to continue to live away from downtown or to far away from their place of employment. But so what can we do to make cities more attractive to households who are who, you know, are choosing where to live in an environment where they have more options because of with respect to location, because of remote working and therefore less commuting from a housing perspective? I think one of the key and you’ve heard this from some of the other speakers is that we need more housing supply. And there’s maybe a few reasons why I think supply is a key factor. And firstly, you know, we’ve done work at CMHC that shows that there’s a shortage of, you know, two and three bedroom units in many urban centers in order to meet the needs of families. And so to fix this, we need to build the right kind of units in our cities to meet the needs of the people that we’re actually trying to attract. And so I think that would be an important factor to try to get people back into the city. Second, we need to improve the affordability of housing in our cities. Supply has consistently fallen short of demand in some of our our big urban centers. Key examples are Toronto and Vancouver, where house price escalation predates the start of the pandemic by a long shot, really. And these rapidly growing cities need more housing supply to accommodate growing populations, which drive rising demand. If we don’t do this, we’re really going to get into this loop of further price escalation that’ll cause affordability to deteriorate further. And I think another panelist mentioned this as well, and it’s important to recognize that affordability isn’t just a problem for homeowners. So we hear a lot about escalating house prices. But the reality is the lack of new supply is causing rents to increase as well, creating affordability challenge for renter households. When you look across Canada, 13 percent of households are in core housing need, meaning that they’re spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing or living in an inadequate or unsuitable housing. And the majority of this 13 percent of households in core need are renter households. And now lastly, with respect to supply, I think we need to have an open mind about higher density, new supply. And in Toronto and Vancouver, you know, we did work that estimated the cost of land can be as high as 80 percent of the price of a home. And so with expensive land, the need to share that cost among more households in order to achieve better housing affordability is key. So that means we need more high-density housing. Now increasing the housing supply doesn’t guarantee success in attracting people back to the city again. Much depends on other factors, such as the extent that, you know, remote working might continue into the future. However, cities are not just a place to work. We have to remember that, you know, access to culture, restaurants and amenities. Those are key drawing points to cities, attracting residents to our urban centers makes our cities more vibrant and viable. And so for example, if you think you know, if there’s an exodus at the end of every workday when people head home, you know, this really underutilized is the infrastructures in our cities. And, you know, think restaurants here that, you know, exist only to feed the lunchtime crowd but have no customers for dinner. So having a population of urban residents in our cities helps these local businesses thrive. So to conclude, I would advocate that increasing the affordability of housing is the right thing to do to help those Canadians who are forced to allocate too much of their income to shelter costs. And the key to achieving better affordability in the long term is to build enough housing to absorb the growing demand and by increasing access to affordable housing. Hopefully, we can sweeten the pot and make our cities more attractive options for middle class families to work and live. Now, maybe just the last thing I’ll say, I just want to chime in. You know, there was a little bit of talk of financialization, of housing, and not that I want to pick sides too much, but I think what Michael said really resonates with me. And one thing that I was, I’ve been telling people is you really have to be careful when you throw all investors under the bus when you think about financialization, I think it was an important point made that we need these investors to invest in housing to keep it in decent condition. But also when you think about the most affordable part of the the housing market, the rental market this is about 95 percent investor owned. And so you have to remember that not all investors are bad. I mean, I think we have to nuance the debate. I think there are speculators in the market, especially when supply is short and prices are going up that add to the problems of the market. But I think to to to throw all investors under the bus is a dangerous thing because we need them to help us add to the supply of housing in order to deal with affordability. So I think there is an important discussion to have there and to sort of help figure out how we can leverage investors to help us deliver the housing we need to improve affordability. So I’ll stop there. 


Frances Bula [00:39:48] Sorry. Thank you so much. Those were five really different interesting perspectives with lots to think about in there. I’m seeing a ton of questions in the chat. No, we cannot solve financialization in the next four minutes. I’m going to say no to that one. I think that deserves a session of its own. I just wondered if any, I have one question, but I’d first like to ask any of you. Do you have questions for other people on the panel, like things where you’re like, Well, how would you do that or why do you think that’s important or whatever? And does anyone have a question for someone else that they where they what they heard them say? 


Tim Richter [00:40:33] I’m desperate to talk about financialization, but if you tell me I can’t, then I’ll behave myself. 


Frances Bula [00:40:41] I just, no I’m dying to talk about financialization. I’m writing something on it now, but I don’t think we can deal with it very well in three minutes so. 


Tim Richter [00:40:50] We can quickly talk. I think quickly talk to Michael’s point about how do you maintain those buildings right? I think really quickly there are a few things we need to consider. One it’ll be far cheaper for the government to support the maintenance, support and investment in repairing and upgrading those buildings than it is to replace them. So you’re going to spend twenty-five thousand one hundred thousand dollars a door versus five hundred thousand dollars a door to repair. You’re not. The replacement cost is too high. Second, I think it’s really important that there is is a harmful market activity that is harmful. I worked in the private sector for a while for a public company that generated power from coal. The government said, you know, that’s kind of harmful climate change, pollution. You need to stop doing that. Investors and the company shifted. So they’re building renewable, they’re building gas. Government has a role to step in to intervene, to stop market activity as harmful. I think Bob and Michael are both exactly right. The market and investors have a really important role to play and what we’re seeing now. And I think the CMHC data will support this, that we’re actually seeing a record amount of market rental construction because investors are shifting to build that. And I think that investors have a really, really important role to play, but we need to channel that in a way that’s not harmful to lower-income households. And finally, Frances, you’re right. I think the sector would love to be buying and buying up these units to preserve them as affordable housing. And did you know in Canada that we can donate land for birds and bugs and nature preservation, nature conservation, but we can’t donate buildings or land with the same tax treatment if it’s for affordable housing. So there’s a few ways I think right away that we could tackle these things. The quick talk on financialization? Not, not too much.


Frances Bula [00:42:49]  OK. 


Michael Brooks [00:42:50] One more point, Frances you know.


Frances Bula [00:42:54] Michael looks like he wants to respond. 


Michael Brooks [00:42:55] No, no. I don’t want to respond, but I just want to add one more overlay to this. And that’s the climate change piece. We’ve struck a subgroup of our apartment owning members who are trying to figure out how do we get buildings to net-zero? There’s another imperative that is a capital cost that will exacerbate, I think, Tim. This problem between where’s the balance point between the naturally occurring affordable housing and upgrades that are necessary? And we’re all struggling with that because there’s often a business case gap. 


Stephen Paynter [00:43:28] I think, Michael, if I can interject, though, that the idea of, you know, getting to net-zero actually ties up really nicely with the long-term rental and investor-owned rental as well, because those projects on a condo basis don’t make any sense. It’s very challenging to get to net-zero and sell it. Well, it does make a lot of sense is actually building these with, you know, 25, 30-year vision and saying, OK, we’re going to invest a little more upfront, but we’re going to see that payback. And that’s a lot of the investors that we’re working with are very, very quickly getting on board with that and by quickly. I mean, it’s gone from zero to every investor we talked to in the last year. And they’re saying, you know, the cost of running these buildings are actually just doing just present to 75000 square foot project like this. The cost to run the building was one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year, as a code-compliant building is about $15000 a year as a net-zero building. So, you know, very, very quickly starts to make sense for them, and it has to be long-term rental and then it can start to be affordable as well. But you need really clever people in the room to make that happen. And that’s been a definite challenge, as you know because it’s so new, having the people with the experience to pull it off is incredibly difficult. But it does make sense and we are doing projects right now that are pencilling out like that, but they’re few and far between at the moment. 


Frances Bula [00:45:01] OK. We’re at 11: 46, and I think I’m going to be ordered any moment to pull the plug here. So there were so many other interesting questions. One was why do we even, why is it so important to reinvest in downtowns like they’ve got so much already? And isn’t that kind of a 19th-century model and we should think of something different? I’m glad you brought up climate change, Michael because there was a question in the chat about that. So many questions and also great examples from people about things that are happening in their community. I hope this chart can be saved because there are lots of great, you know, models may be that other people can look at who are attending this and so on. But I know we barely got started. I know everyone’s feeling like, Oh my God, we didn’t solve everything. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:45:56] Yeah, well, what were you guys doing? Why didn’t you just solve the darn thing Frances? I thought I would come back and you’d have it done. 


Frances Bula [00:46:03] I know if you had given us like seven more minutes.


Mary W. Rowe [00:46:08] Yeah, I’m sure that would have made all the difference. I know. Well, you know, we’re really using these as discussion starters for what the agenda for 2022 needs to look like. And obviously, housing is a critical part of it. And I appreciate that you didn’t just talk about how downtown, how housing needs to be introduced into downtown in different ways. You also talked about the implications. If you want vibrant downtowns with lots of workers, you need to have lots of housing choices for those workers. Where are they going to live? And the point that Steve made around are we actually creating housing for a diverse constituency of folks that need to live and want to live downtown, including the indigenous communities around us? So again, we just got started. We could have, as you suggested, Frances, we could have had a session on each of your topics and the f word financialization, of course, was uttered a number of times. But I look forward to ongoing conversations and we all know that Frances will keep writing about this. So it’s going to take a lot of solutions and a lot of different approaches, and I appreciate having people coming in from different cities. Bob, nice to have the CHMC there to give us a sense of what the database is. And I know, Michael, that you brought your whole self to work there today, not just the industry that you represent, but also your engagement with the not-for-profit community. And Stephen, we’re looking forward to working with you more on conversions because that is an interest CUI has about whether we can repurpose spaces. And I’ll just say back to Tim, you know, Tim, we appreciate the voice that you consistently bring. That solving and addressing homelessness is everybody’s challenge and it affects every neighbourhood and that during COVID, it’s been very clear, but it’s particularly acute in downtowns and so we’re going to have to be very thoughtful about this. We can’t just ignore it or pretend it’s going to go away because that’s not going to be the case, obviously. So I just want to thank all of you and Frances, thanks for joining us. We now have one of those great breaks. You get to listen to more of the playlist. You also get to see images of interesting things that communities are doing across the country to revitalize through the Healthy Communities Initiative and through the My Main Street Initiative. So that’s what you’re watching when those things scroll and I’ll see you back here in 11 minutes on your time zone to talk about how do we bring back, bring people back? Transit. Thanks again, Francis, for pulling this together. Thanks, everybody. 


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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02:55:33 Canadian Urban Institute: HOUSEKEEPING:
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02:56:34 Canadian Urban Institute: Frances Bula is a journalist specializing in urban issues and city politics in the Vancouver region, which she’s covered since 1994. She has covered a broad range of issues in this endlessly changing city: drug policy, bike lanes, billion-dollar development projects, homelessness, garbage debates, and more. She is the former chair of the journalism department at Langara College and continues to teach there, sending students out to the community report on local cities and their doings in my Civic Reporting class. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Journalism at the University of B.C., where she works with students on basic research, interviewing, story-development and writing skills. Frances won a one-year fellowship from the Atkinson Foundation in 1999 that allowed her to study homelessness and affordable-housing options around the world.

02:57:38 Clint Wensley: Good to see you here. Clint Wensley here, former President and GM of the Plaza of Nations Vancouver

02:59:16 Canadian Urban Institute: Steven Paynter is the Regional Design Resilience Leader, Principal at Gensler.
Steven’s leadership has been instrumental in the firm’s continued growth in the Toronto market. He oversees a studio of 40+ architects and designers with responsibility for projects that span large-scale master planning, complex adaptive reuse and repositioning projects, and new, ground-up buildings. As a Design Resilience Leader for the Northeast region, he guides thought leadership and market position around the most pressing challenges facing landlords and developers.

03:00:02 Clint Wensley: Take a look how we have changed city cores into tourism magnets.

03:02:09 Gwen Bang: can office buildings be converted into affordable housing?

03:03:21 Clint Wensley: As the world has changed to online driven resources, I believe bringing high tech companies into the center cores, which in turn brings housing demands.

03:05:16 Clint Wensley: Absolutely

03:06:37 Canadian Urban Institute: Tim Richter is the Founder, President & CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). Under his leadership, the CAEH has: helped shape federal, provincial and local homelessness action and policy including the national implementation of Housing First, the National Housing Strategy and Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy; hosted five highly successful National Conferences on Ending Homelessness; co-authored three State of Homelessness in Canada reports in 2013, 2014 and 2016; launched a national Training and Technical Assistance program as a mission based, non-profit training and technical assistance program; and, launched the 20,000 Homes Campaign – a national movement of communities working together to house 20,000 of Canada’s most vulnerable homeless people and end chronic homelessness in 20 communities. Tim received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History as well as a Bachelor of Applied Communications.

03:07:10 Clint Wensley: Just trying to share my global experience.

03:10:17 Meg Marshall: Meg from Queen West BIA.

I think all factors have to be considered. I’m referring to the comparison from Robson St to QW.


We have some of the highest tax rates due to property assed values (that is being addressed), major construction took place this summer and many are scared of imminent major transit line construction happening soon. So it has caused many businesses to not renew their leases

03:12:20 Cecile Roslin: Yes Tim!

03:12:40 Stephen Crozier: Great, Tim.

03:13:58 Stephen Crozier: $38 thousand/year to house someone; $58 thousand/year to keep someone homeless.

03:14:32 Mark van Elsberg: Supportive housing also requires other supports from all levels of governement.  Higher levels of Governement tend to focus their resouces by concentrating these supports in urban centres.  But housing opportunities are not added. Leavng this to the market used to work, as the perimeter of the core traditioanlly is depressed.  This is nolonger the case and we need to either add housing, or move services. The latter is likely better as lower concentrations of issues allow those in need to mature into their neighbourhoods

03:14:35 Canadian Urban Institute: Michael Brooks is the CEO of REALPAC and is responsible for the Associations’ strategic planning, policy formulation, government relations, national and international liaison with associations in the USA, UK, Asia and Australia via membership in the Real Estate Equity Securitization Alliance and has been the catalyst to REALPAC’s growth over the past 15 years. Michael is a former Associate Professor at Ryerson University.

03:14:53 Tom Yarmon: Tim, you have nailed it.  Canada just has to build more purpose built housing for low income people, including rent geared to income housing.  Alberta had a really good program in the 70’s and 80’s providing real financial incentives to private developers not for “affordable” housing but real rent to income housing; as the non profits later on in many cities; and, of course, government owned housing  What’s happening these years.  Instead of billions provided to only the development industry; how about real targeted low income housing.  Let’s be innovative and lets A

03:15:00 Tom Yarmon: lets ACT!

03:16:39 Erwin Dreessen: To Tim Richter: Inclusiveness will only go so far. Every city has one or more “enclaves” where the really well-to-do prefer to congregate.

03:17:12 Joe Ceci: Raising the homelessness crisis in cities to the same level as massive environmental disaster responses, I think of the 2016 flood in Calgary and the massive prolonged response that necessitated, is an interesting way to frame the actual response that is needed. Thanks for offering that Tim.

03:17:29 Fiona Mitchell: Michael – we constantly hear that family-sized rental units are not possible from an economic standpoint for a developer, and you noted as much. Can you break down that argument a bit more so we can understand that argument with more clarity?

03:17:37 Canadian Urban Institute: We hope this summit is as interactive as possible, so please feel free to share comments, references, links and questions in the chat. Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

03:18:53 Janice Campbell: MB – excellent point – let’s incentivize builders to help solve the problem together.

03:19:24 Stephen Crozier: Intent is important. Is your intent to house people or make profit?

03:19:32 Gloria Venczel: Tim- agreed! Social diversity + income diversity makes cities vibrant and functional- but would require robust pedestrian oriented urban design, public spaces + streetscapes where people can met through happenstance. Vibrant public spaces are where the social life of cities and civil society play out, enhancing social resiliency, particulraly important in times of crisis, like covid + climate change.

03:19:52 Graham Singh: @Michael, stick around and join us at 4pm where we will be happy to discus why we need NEW REIT structures to help with social purpose real estate challenges, like faith properties and including targets like Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+ and other equity seeking group ownership and/or leadership 🙂

03:19:54 Mark van Elsberg: We are losing our hotels to affordable housing as a place holder for developers to then convert to condo.  Airbnb is not going to replace hotels and their ability to do in person conferences

03:20:00 Gwen Bang: because rental units are so expensive, would it be possible to use Market Rent models for private landlords. are there any policies that can regulate that?

03:20:07 Rino Bortolin: Having the housing discussion focus solely on the market side and not consider policies and zoning and planning ordinances is just going to lead to many of the same mistakes made in the 50s and 70s.  We need to build how we want and what we need, not just what the market will build.

03:20:17 Canadian Urban Institute: Steve Teekens is the Executive Director at Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence) where he has worked since 2008. He has been working with the marginalized and homeless sector in Toronto since 1995.  Steve is a member of Nipissing First Nation, has a master’s degree in public administration from Queen’s University. Steve is very active in Toronto’s Indigenous Community where he volunteers at Toronto Aboriginal Social Services Council (TASSC), Aboriginal Legal Services Community Council Program. Steve also teaches traditional drumming and to the youth and men at various Native organizations inside and outside of Toronto. Steve enjoys working and volunteering in the Indigenous Community and wishes to see people overcome their obstacles and find the resilience in themselves to succeed in life.

03:20:45 Ushnish Sengupta: In addition to nonprofits owning rental properties,  co-operative housing is part of the solution.  All levels of govt invested in cooperative housing a few decades back, but not recently

03:20:56 Walley Wargolet: Would a federal commitment to making housing a human right like we have for health care help change the overall strategy to fixing some of these issues?

03:21:46 Tim Richter: Hi Walley  – The federal government passed the National Housing Strategy Act in 2019 that made housing a right in Canada. And yes – it will help!

03:23:00 Stephen Crozier: Canada signed on to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which included the right to housing, in 1948.

03:23:12 Ken Kelly: The Winnipeg Core Area Initiative [WCAI] which operated from ’83-91 was the renaissance creation of all three levels of government focused on the ten-square miles of the city. There was funding for residential conversion – with the Ashdown Warehouse being one of the jewels, to this day – but also other complementary wrap around employment, social, and development programs.  The federal government should be moving to a coalition of the willing through urban development agreements [like WCAI] to focus on the issues we are talking about.

03:24:30 Ken Kelly: TOTALLY agreed.

03:24:32 Kelly Bergeron: Agreed Steve! 

03:24:53 Cherie Klassen: So true.

03:25:01 MariaLuisa Marti: Agreed! Thank you

03:25:10 Gwen Bang: also, with all these TCHC revitalizations like Regent Park and the Projects:  how many people lived in these homes before the revitalization. How many affordable units that provided subsidized, rent to gear income and market rent were available after the revitalization? if it is the same as before, should we not request that it should be more of these units?

03:25:17 Janice Campbell: Amen and let’s GO w/that one … tick, tick, tick.

03:26:06 Stephanie McCracken: Good point.

03:26:59 Tom Yarmon: keep at it, Tim,  you have presented very effectively. keep pushing!

03:27:26 A S: I would love to hear panelists talk more about  innovation in housing.  Frances, I know you’ve written on laneway homes/ADUs.  That’s one example; community land trusts are another.  Missing middle. Etc.  Some of these also bring in the climate lens that is part of the connective tissue of cities – really key to countering the pro-greenfield, pro-single family dwelling policies of the Ontario government for example.  Even federally I don’t see the focus on these issues that I would like.

03:27:30 Stephen Crozier: Thanks, Steve.

03:27:39 Canadian Urban Institute: As Chief Economist, Bob Dugan leads a cross-country team of housing economists and researchers who strive to improve understanding of trends in house prices and how they impact affordability, all with an eye to supporting CMHC’s aspiration of housing affordability for all by 2030. Prior to joining CMHC, he held a number of positions in the private sector and federal government where he was responsible for economic forecasting and policy analysis. Bob has an Honours B.S.Sc Economics degree from the University of Ottawa and a Master of Arts in Economics from Carleton University.

03:27:56 Samantha Krahn: Great presentation. We do need to encourage more YIMBYism in our communities. Local advocates.

03:28:40 Rylan Graham: Thank you Steve for your presentation

03:29:42 Cherie Klassen: The business community also plays a big role in advocating for housing. Our BIAs in Edmonton have been advocating for permanent supportive housing. Business communities need to be YIMBY’s.

03:31:26 Rino Bortolin: i think making the only solution to homelessness housing isn’t a complete picture.  Ppl need to be able to afford and stay in homes once they’re housed.  Root problems of homelessness need to be addressed.  If we make building more housing the answer we’re missing 75% of the equation.

03:31:33 Alysson Storey: Steve, very powerful presentation! I am scribbling notes furiously from your remarks. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I live in a smaller community (Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario) with several First Nations communities as neighbours. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations how smaller communities can work together to solve the issues of people who are homeless? We are facing this issue here just like larger urban areas. Thank you and Miigwech.

03:31:57 Michael Brooks: REALPAC has completed a research piece on Global Affordable Housing Models released October 2021. Our website is mid-changeover (so no access there) but we are happy to share with folks on this conference via pdf. Looked at a variety of solutions. Michael

03:31:58 Robert Plitt: Can we explore solutions to this variety of housing challenges  that may be  offered by downtowns – How might the 600M Federal Office to residential conversion fund be deployed to address homelessness, worker housing etc.

03:33:06 Graham Singh: @Steve Teekens, if you are able to join us at 4pm we will be hearing from Stephen Jackson, an Indigenous leader whose charity, Anishnabeg Outreach, is an example of where a former Christian / colonial place of worship is now an Indigenous owned and operated Healing Centre.

03:33:28 Tom Yarmon: supply is not them most urgent: affordable, and housing geared to income is paramount  Where will the workers who supply the labour for the large corporations (and governments) be living?  In Elliot Lake? .  and, yes, certainly more supply, higher density; transportation.  of course.

03:34:14 Stephen Crozier: Hear! Hear! Tom.

03:35:19 Samantha Krahn: Yes. They play a role in the continuum.

03:35:30 Rino Bortolin: Coming to the last speaker and have heard nothing about the environment and climate change.  We’re on the brink of one of the biggest housing booms in a generation and there is little to no conversation about including more climate goals in those builds.  Imagine if every home built going forward was 10x more energy efficient.

03:35:48 Canadian Urban Institute: We’re really enjoying everyone’s comments and questions. Just a reminder, to change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

03:35:57 Peter Vaisbord: Some people say that in certain markets with high speculation, adding supply will just fuel more speculation and higher land prices

03:36:00 Mark van Elsberg: Suggestion  ..HOW ABOUT “BIG OLD HOME CONVERSIONS” TO MINI MULTI UNIT CONDOS !    There is a real opportunity to convert many very large homes and large urban properties with small house into small 3-4 unit condos.  Increasing density, increasing ownerships, removing the need for stacked towns and non traditional housing with multiple challenges.   These conversions allow smaller investors to participate and can far more profitable than converting homes into multiple rental units. These conversions or insertions could provide a mechanism where older home owners who tend to hold on to their empty houses to move “down the block” in their neighbourhood , maintaining all their local connections and friends , which are often lost by moving to a retirement home.  This would open up many opportunities for families to move into these vacated multi bedroom homes.  This neighbourhood intensification supports lower density stable areas without changing the character.  House form rental are also great rental investments.

03:36:10 Samantha Krahn: One challenge in SK is smaller builders. It’s a challenge to build the higher density residential needed.

03:36:12 Stephanie Beausoleil: Safe housing,  community -engaging housing-similar to cohousing- because we need to be well aware and incorporate livable cities and communities into planning and development. Even more so after the past two years

03:36:24 Michael Roschlau: 95% of rental housing is investor owned.  Perhaps that is part of the problem.  European cities have done well with more co-op and publicly owned rental housing.

03:37:25 Clint Wensley: My question is this. Do any of the panelists have certain cities globally they look to as an example?

03:38:00 Mona Moreau: Yes Steve!  Toronto has a very “racist” problem that most people are not even aware of!

03:38:01 Gelare Danaie: Finland is a good example. House for everyone

03:38:41 Zaki Twaishi: How do you see the 3D house printing in Canada  like other international cities ?

03:39:15 Mary: Excellent  point Tim!

03:39:29 throy ross: 2022… whos the audience?..Developers, councillors? Doesn’t everyone know this at this point who live in an urban area even in a small town

03:39:38 Janice Campbell: y, use “carrots” not sticks with developers to keep good units viable and improve energy ratios w/all buildings