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LETTER: Ambition needed to address housing crisis

Habitat Waterloo Region CEO Phil Mills shares thoughts on the housing crisis in the area
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CambridgeToday received the following letter to the editor from Habitat Waterloo Region CEO Phil Mills about the housing crisis in the region.

More and more I’m convinced that we need ambition if we are to address this housing crisis.

Whenever we hear people talk about housing, they say things like “we need an all-hands-on-deck approach” and “we need to make change now”. But then I get to the actual announcement and I wonder, where is the urgency?

Take the federal government’s announcement to use federal land to build more homes. When I hear the federal government is getting involved, I think this must be massive. It’s to address the issue across all of Canada. They are the federal government after all.

But that’s not what the announcement said at all.

Instead, we see 26,400 units of which around 5,300 would be affordable, over the next five years.

We have a whole country that needs housing, specifically affordable housing, and the federal government is talking about 5,300 homes over five years…this seems like a failure of ambition. At least I hope that it’s simply a failure of ambition because if this is the best we can come up with, we are not going to solve this crisis any time soon.

Take Waterloo Region, for example. According to the Waterloo Region Community Foundation’s new Vital Signs report (which everyone should go and read), 2022 saw the regional population grow by 22,700 people. And we saw build starts drop from 5,600 to 4,800. If we assume Waterloo Region has household sizes around the Ontario average of 2.55 people per home, we’re short 4,100 home starts in 2022 to meet the demand. And that’s just one year’s gap. We’ve seen gaps between house starts and growth every year but one since 2016. That’s 7 of the last 8 years!

Remember the federal government’s announcement of 26,400 homes over five years? If our growth and housing starts were to remain steady for the next five years, then we'd need most of those 26,400 homes here in the region. In fact, it would leave only 5,900 homes for the rest of the entire country. Not province, country.

Again, I ask, where is the ambition to tackle this issue?

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is saying we need 35 million homes by 2030 to get affordability back under control and the federal government is announcing 26,400? We need something more than platitudes that this is a crisis or an “all-hands-on-deck” situation. We need real steps and plans from our government at all levels to get the amount of housing we need built, and we need those plans enacted yesterday.

This is a crisis and we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of time because, to be frank, we’ve run out.

Phil Mills
Habitat Waterloo Region CEO