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Sean Fraser asks Halifax to allow four storeys everywhere
Will council say yes?
[Update: Halifax city council voted unanimously to reject four storeys everywhere. Next move is up to Fraser.]
To quote Shannon Proudfoot, reporting from the cabinet retreat in Charlottetown in the summer:
Either your government will “continue” to do incredible work on the crisis at hand because it has been both properly seized by and resoundingly effective on that file all along, or you have recently found religion on this and now the effective policy-building will begin.
It’s obviously the latter. Things are happening pretty quickly now.
Last Monday’s post: Federal plan to tackle the market housing shortage. After the initial Housing Accelerator agreement with London, and then Fraser’s open letter to Calgary, there was more news last Thursday, this time in Halifax.
Halifax won’t get federal housing funding unless it allows more density: minister’s letter to mayor. By Zane Woodford in the Halifax Examiner. From the letter:
Upon reviewing your application in detail, there were a number of initiatives which I was pleased to see.
However, there are a few changes I request that you consider in order to strengthen it. These include:
Legalizing 4 units as-of-right city wide;
Legalizing dwellings up to 4-storeys high for all residential areas in the Centre Plan;
Creating a non-market affordable housing strategy with staff dedicated to it; and
Increasing density and student rentals within walking distance of the City’s first rate post-secondary institutions.
This is incredible. Housing minister @SeanFraserMP demanding Halifax allow 4-units, 4 storeys by right, more near the universities. That’s more housing supply across a lot of the city
I know I sound like a crank being the one guy jumping up and down and pointing, but last week was a game changer for housing policy.
Sean Fraser realized he could wield the Housing Accelerator Fund carrot like a stick. He's going around bashing munis and I am here for it!
As Lafleur notes, Sean Fraser is already doing what Poilievre has promised to do two years from now.
Seriously. Explain to me how CPC's housing policy is better than the revamped LPC approach like I'm five years old. You can't, can you! Sean Fraser is eating their lunch on policy. Maybe it doesn't matter electorally. But if CPC wants to own the file, they need to go bigger.
Why wasn’t the federal government doing this already?
Covid really lit a fire under the housing market: a giant surge in both remote work (people needing more space at home) and pandemic savings for people working remotely (because they were no longer spending money on gas, shopping, dining out, and travel).
Pre-Covid, the main focus of the Trudeau government on housing was non-market housing for lower-income households (the 2017 National Housing Strategy put $15B into it). But post-Covid, we now have a huge shortage of market housing, affecting younger people all the way up the income scale.
I think Poilievre deserves credit for correctly diagnosing the problem: municipal gatekeepers. His actual proposals turn out to be relatively weak, though, and in any case the Liberals have two years to apply the same diagnosis and push municipal governments to unlock more housing. (The Liberals also seem to be willing to put more money into it, both through the Housing Accelerator Fund and through tax changes like removing the GST on new rental housing.)
What happens next
Will Halifax city council say yes? Halifax council will consider minister’s housing demands, but height will be a sticking point. Zane Woodford:
In an interview on Friday, [Mayor Mike Savage] said he thinks council will consider Fraser’s requests.
Allowing four storeys everywhere in the regional centre, however, is a “little bit troublesome,” Savage said. The Centre Plan currently caps heights in established residential areas at about three storeys.
“Four storeys is a little bit trickier and I’m a little more surprised by that, but we’ll have to have a conversation,” Savage said.
Council will discuss the issue in the coming weeks, Savage said, but he didn’t indicate whether it would happen at this coming Tuesday’s meeting.
Woodford also interviewed Houssam Elokda of the consultancy Happy Cities, who supports the legalization of four-storey buildings (“Allowing four storeys doesn’t mean you’re forcing everyone to build four storeys”) and Waye Mason, councillor for Peninsula South, who thinks four storeys “adds political chafe.”
That Halifax Regional Council:
1. Direct the Chief Administrative Officer:
a. To respond to the letter from the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Canada, as included in Attachment A to the staff report dated September 25, 2023, to indicate HRM will include the initiatives as generally outlined, and further detailed in the staff report dated September 25, 2023, along with all additional required documentation to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as the Municipality’s application under the Housing Accelerator Fund program to the extent the Municipality has the authority to do so;
b. Expedite amendments to the Regional Plan and supporting secondary planning strategies and land use by-laws (following the closure of the Regional Plan Review Phase 4 Public Participation Program on October 27, 2023) to enable:
i. a minimum of four units per lot in all residential zones across the municipality, and
ii. increase to the maximum height in all Centre Plan Established Residential Zones from 11 metres to 12 metres;
c. To create a public-facing affordable housing strategy, including a non-market component, as outlined in the staff report dated September 25, 2023 and to dedicate a Housing Accelerator Fund position to this work;
d. To work with HRM post-secondary institutions to increase density and create opportunities for student housing within a walking distance from post-secondary institutions across HRM; and
2. Request the Mayor to write a letter to the Province requesting a legislative amendment to grant the Chief Administrative Officer the authority to discharge existing development agreements where the development agreement is more restrictive than the as-of-right zoning.
We’ll see if they pass it!
Implications for Vancouver
With Sean Fraser telling Halifax that it needs to allow four storeys everywhere, is he going to tell Vancouver the same thing? With the rule of thumb that land cost for a new building should be about 20-25% of the total cost, and the high cost of land in Vancouver, allowing four storeys everywhere would make sense. In the region, the shortfall of housing is worst in the city of Vancouver.