Oshawa to debate using surplus lands for affordable housing

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Published June 21, 2024 at 9:46 am

Habitat for Humanity Oshawa
A Habitat for Humanity project on Centre Street in Oshawa

Should surplus City-owned lands be used for affordable housing in the midst of a national housing crisis?

An Oshawa Councillor thinks so and wants staff to talk to stakeholders, the Region of Durham and the public about identifying those properties and using them as “leverage” to provide much needed affordable housing.

“We’re in a national housing affordability crisis that requires action of every level of government – no exceptions,” said Ward 4 City Councillor Derek Giberson, who is introducing a Notice of Motion Monday for Oshawa to look at using surplus City-owned lands for affordable housing and wants to hear from the public on the issue.

“I’m not recommending anything that is novel or unusual – putting in place a clear-sighted strategy of this sort has been done in a multitude of cities in Ontario and across Canada. If anything, we are behind the curve on this conversation, but we would have some good models to learn from,” he explained. “Smart municipalities have realized that selling their lands off to private developers for a one-off windfall doesn’t provide long-term solutions.”

Oshawa Councillor Derek Giberson

Giberson noted that Oshawa does not have a “unified, clear strategic direction” on how surplus lands – often in “strategic and high value locations” – should be used, resulting in a “case-by-case treatment” of the properties when it comes time to put them on the market.

“Once a property is sold any future opportunities to act in a strategic manner is lost.”

The councillor cited several examples of the strategy used by municipalities around Ontario in recent years:

  • Toronto, which teamed up with a developer and the local Co-operative Housing Federation in January to deliver more than 900 homes – including 612 rent-geared-to-income – on City-owned lands;
  • Kitchener, which donated a two-acre parcel of land to Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing in April that will include some larger three and four-bedroom units, as well as smaller studio, one, and two-bedroom units; and
  • Windsor, which found four municipal-owned properties “ideal for development to increase the affordable and ‘missing middle’ housing supply.”

Construction on an 84-unit affordable housing project in Bowmanville on former municipally-owned lands

Locally, Clarington made a splash in 2022 when it sold land (at a reduced price) to Durham Region Non-Profit Housing and Habitat for Humanity GTA to create an 84-unit mixed development on Baseline Road that will include 52 units dedicated to rental housing and 32 earmarked for affordable ownership.

Giberson is encouraging the public to voice support for the proposal by sending an email to the City Clerk’s office ([email protected]) by 4 p.m. Friday.

If the motion is approved City staff – after talking with the Durham Region Housing division – would report back to Council before the end of the year on the feasibility of the strategy.

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