Why mixed-use de­vel­op­ments get mixed re­views


Mixed-use de­vel­op­ments that com­bine res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial land uses have long been a favourite pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion for ur­ban plan­ners. But while such de­vel­op­ments are known to pro­mote sus­tain­able modes of trans­porta­tion, they may also have an ad­verse im­pact on hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity.

Hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity in mixe­duse neigh­bour­hoods is worse than in other parts of a city. If gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions con­tinue to pro­mote mixed land use de­vel­op­ments, which is the case in Ontario and sev­eral other prov­inces, their ad­verse im­pact on hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity may not be ig­nored.

High pop­u­la­tion den­sity and mixed land use are con­sid­ered the quintessen­tial tenets of good ur­ban plan­ning. Den­sity, de­sign, and di­ver­sity in land use are be­lieved to pro­mote travel by non-mo­tor­ized modes and pub­lic tran­sit.

Thus, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horse­shoe in Ontario stip­u­lates that des­ig­nated green­field ar­eas in large ur­ban mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must be planned to achieve min­i­mum den­si­ties of 80 res­i­dents and jobs com­bined per hectare.

Re­cent re­search from Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. how­ever, iden­ti­fies the hitherto ig­nored ex­ter­nal­i­ties of high-den­sity living and the un­in­tended out­comes of land-use re­stric­tions.

For starters, re­searchers at McGill Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia found that higher den­sity living meant less hap­pi­ness. They re­ported that the pop­u­la­tion den­sity in the most mis­er­able com­mu­ni­ties in Canada, on aver­age, was eight times higher than in the hap­pi­est com­mu­ni­ties.

In­ter­est­ingly, the two salient char­ac­ter­is­tics of happy com­mu­ni­ties were shorter com­mute times and af­ford­able hous­ing.

Re­cently pub­lished re­search in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion ex­plored whether mixed-use neigh­bour­hoods in Toronto of­fered af­ford­able hous­ing com­pared to other parts of the city as hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity evolved from 1991 to 2006. The re­search con­cluded that “own­er­ship and rental hous­ing in Toronto was gen­er­ally less af­ford­able within mixed-use zones than in ar­eas not so zoned.”

The re­search also ob­served that hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity im­proved over time but only for high-in­come earn­ers em­ployed in man­age­ment, busi­ness, tech­ni­cal and healthre­lated oc­cu­pa­tions. How­ever, for those em­ployed in so­cial and pub­lic sec­tor, trades, cul­tural, ser­vices and man­u­fac­tur­ing oc­cu­pa­tions, hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity wors­ened in mixed-use zones.

When it comes to hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity, there ex­ists a dis­con­nect be­tween ev­i­dence and pub­lic pol­icy. Of­ten, pub­lic sec­tor in­ter­ven­tions to im­prove af­ford­able hous­ing are fo­cused on ur­ban ar­eas where den­si­ties are high but so are land and hous­ing prices. Thus, one gets less af­ford­able hous­ing per dol­lar when af­ford­able hous­ing in­vest­ments are tar­geted at places where land is more ex­pen­sive.

A study of hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity in Montreal and Van­cou­ver also noted that com­pared to the ur­ban core, hous­ing was more af­ford­able in the outer zones. The study also ex­plored the added af­ford­abil­ity bur­den car­ried by fam­i­lies with chil­dren. It re­vealed that “cou­ples with­out chil­dren had con­sid­er­ably more op­tions for af­ford­able hous­ing.” Whereas the in­ner­most zones of Van­cou­ver of­fered no af­ford­able space to cou­ples with chil­dren.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has promised to spend an un­prece­dented $40 bil­lion over 10 years to cut chronic home­less­ness by 50 per cent. The gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Hous­ing Strat­egy prom­ises to build 100,000 new af­ford­able hous­ing units, part of the goal of al­le­vi­at­ing the hous­ing needs of 530,000 house­holds.

Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments in Canada have also taken mea­sures to im­prove hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments in B.C. and Ontario, for in­stance, have im­posed ad­di­tional land trans­fer taxes on for­eign and out-of-prov­ince (in B.C.’s case) home­buy­ers to curb the de­mand for hous­ing. Such mea­sures of­ten achieve lim­ited or short-term suc­cess where hous­ing prices re­vert to up­ward climb within months if the sup­ply side of the equa­tion is ig­nored.

Re­stric­tions on dwelling type and lo­ca­tion, as well as min­i­mum den­sity thresh­olds, can also be a drag on new hous­ing con­struc­tion.

The lat­est data on sea­son­ally ad­justed hous­ing starts show that builders broke ground on fewer new homes in May than they did in April. The de­cline was most pro­nounced for mul­ti­ple-unit ur­ban hous­ing. Sup­ply side con­straints also con­trib­ute to higher aver­age rents and prices.

With bil­lions of dol­lars be­ing ear­marked to im­prove hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity there is an ur­gent need to not ig­nore ev­i­dence for the un­in­tended con­se­quences of higher den­sity, mixed land uses, or tar­get­ing in­vest­ments in ur­ban core where land and hous­ing is much more ex­pen­sive.

The de­mand for af­ford­able hous­ing should be met with more sup­ply and not just more reg­u­la­tions.

PostMeDia FiLes

High pop­u­la­tion den­sity, de­sign, and di­ver­sity in land use are be­lieved to pro­mote travel by non-mo­tor­ized modes and pub­lic tran­sit.

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