Inside the Green party’s push for new housing policy

The Greens have released a discussion paper on affordable housing. TVO.org speaks with leader Mike Schreiner about trying to find comprehensive solutions for complex problems

Ontario Green party leader Mike Shriener

Green leader Mike Schreiner represents the Guelph riding. (Fred Lum/CP)

You can’t be a political party in Ontario, it seems, without having some kind of meaty housing policy. And the Greens, now, are no exception. At its annual convention this past weekend, in Scarborough, the Green Party of Ontario introduced a discussion paper for its members to chew over in coming months as the party develops a comprehensive housing plan. Last week, ahead of the convention, TVO.org spoke with Green leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner about the discussion paper, what’s up for debate, and what’s off the table as the party moves forward.

 TVO.org: How many prior assumptions are you bringing to this discussion? You are the party leader, but the discussion paper doesn’t dictate your views to the party.

Mike Schreiner: No, this is a discussion paper to engage a wide variety of stakeholders in a really comprehensive solution to unlock affordable housing in Ontario. I think one of the concerns I’ve had is that a lot of the discussion has been too narrow. Things like, “If we just open the Greenbelt for development and increase housing supply, we’re going to solve the problem” or “If we impose rent control, we’re going to solve the problem.” But I think it’s much more complex and needs a more comprehensive solution than that. And I think one of the roles the Green party can play, that I can play as an independent MPP, is to bring a more non-partisan perspective and one that looks at best practices around the country and around the world.

TVO.org: The way these discussions are usually framed involves people saying things like “nothing is off the table,” but you mentioned the Greenbelt, so I’ll ask: I’m assuming the Green party is not going to support opening up the Greenbelt?

Schreiner: Oh, yeah, there are certain things that are not on the table for us — I want to be really clear about that. For me, it’s about how we unlock affordable housing in a way that protects the people and places we love. One of the concerns I have is, if we continue to pave over the Earth’s ability to absorb excess water, for example, we’re going to just escalate the risks associated with flooding, especially as we address the climate crisis. So one of the motivations for me in doing this is to look at a lot of the options out there that will allow us to increase the amount of affordability in the housing market without opening the Greenbelt, without threatening prime farmland, without paving over our wetlands and green space. But also without the solution being, I think, a false choice between single-family-detached urban sprawl and 80-storey towers. There are a lot of other options in between, and, if you look around the world, there are a lot of creative solutions being implemented.

For me, the question is, what can we learn from around the world and apply to Ontario and the distinctive characteristics of our communities?

TVO.org: When we talk about housing as an environmental issue, we tend to talk about increasing density, making neighbourhoods more transit-compatible, and hoping for that virtuous cycle that sees people drive less and take transit or bike or walk more. But there’s also resistance to change in a lot of neighbourhoods. What do you think the province’s role is here?

Schreiner: I think the province’s role is in making sure that we zone neighbourhoods appropriately for mixed use, that we remove restrictions for things like laneway housing, secondary suites, triplex, duplex-type buildings. And, you know, I often think there’s an education and public-engagement role the province can play as well. Obviously, you’re not going to alleviate everyone’s concerns about changing the character of neighbourhoods, but I think there are ways in which we can preserve the character of neighbourhoods if we can get past the discussion where it’s either single-family detached homes or a massive tower. We can densify our cities at a human scale and do it in a way that maintains the character of neighbourhoods.

TVO.org: In the United States, a number of state legislatures have simply taken powers away from municipalities on the grounds that they were not permitting enough housing to be built. What’s your perspective on that? What’s the proper role for local municipalities?

Schreiner: The role the province should play is to establish the rules of the game, the density targets, issues around urban-boundary expansion. But I think its important to allow municipalities some flexibility to determine how they’ll best meet those criteria within their own communities and not have everything dictated from Queen’s Park. So I wouldn’t go as far as that. We did include some examples of the West Coast in the discussion paper, in part so that people would just know what approaches other places are taking.

TVO.org: The question of housing is bigger than owning or even renting. You’ve got a section in the paper about supportive housing and shelters. In government, there’s often a temptation to try to find clever ways to avoid spending more money, but is that really an option here?

Schreiner: Sometimes, the discussion is too focused on, let’s say, young middle-class families who are trying to access homeownership — without thinking about other ways that there are affordability barriers. And, sometimes, we say “affordable housing,” and people immediately think we’re talking about people who are un-housed. To me, an important part of the solution, and an important contribution we can make, is that housing is really a continuum. So if you have affordable opportunities for seniors, for example — to either downsize out of their family home into an affordable retirement community, or maybe something like co-housing — then you open up more homes for people who are in the years when they’re having children and need more space.

So there are trickle-down effects all through the continuum if you can unlock that. I’ve heard statistics that there’s as many as 40,000 homes available if we can unlock bottlenecks in that continuum. And I think that we also need to look at vacation homes and Airbnb and the pressure those are putting on housing, taking units out of the market. Speculation, vacant units, people just purchasing homes or condos and hanging on to them as investments. There’s no single silver-bullet solution.

TVO.org: I’m hearing you talk about speculation, and there’s a section in the discussion paper about “housing being used as a bank.” The Green party hasn’t historically been a doctrinaire left-wing party that’s totally opposed to capitalism. Is this an area in which you see an argument for more government?

Schreiner: I think there are two areas where government involvement is critically important. One of those, and it’s a point you made earlier and I should have answered your question better: we do need more government money going into the system. Since governments really pulled back from co-op and social housing, we’ve seen the affordability challenges grow, and I think we are going to need to have more government investment. That being said, big chunks of our discussion paper talk about “how do we create incentives for the private sector to be involved in affordability solutions?” So we’re not saying government has all the answers, but we are going to need government investment in some areas, particularly around housing the most vulnerable. I think the other way in which government involvement is important is just using taxing powers to reduce speculation and deal with vacancy issues. I think the previous government made some positive steps with the foreign-buyers tax; my perspective is if we’re going to address speculation, let’s not limit it to foreign buyers who are speculating in the market. Let’s look at anyone speculating in the housing market. SOURCE

RELATED:

Three Serious Solutions to Vancouver’s Housing Crisis

 

We have solutions to the climate crisis. Let’s speed up and implement them

Mike Hudema regularly posts on Twitter innovations and best practices in short videos that would help us avoid climate disaster and lead us towards a new green economy.

Posted below are some liks to his various postings. The question inevitable arises, why aren’t our leaders following these best practices?

MORE

‘Stars Aligned’ to Make BC First to Protect ‘Force for Good’ Businesses

This BC legislation should be replicated across Canada. 

How insurance advisor Bernie Geiss went to Victoria and made history.

BCLegislatureRoof.jpg
Citizen Bernie Geiss got Green Leader Andrew Weaver excited, who easily won support from Premier John Horgan and his NDP. Result: BC is first to safeguard ‘benefit companies.’ Photo: Wikimedia.

You start a company intending it to be a “force for good” by being environmentally or socially responsible. What protects that mission down the line, when new investors gain control?

Nothing in most of Canada. But a new law in British Columbia locks in your intent.

The idea was to create a law similar to ones already existing in 35 states in the United States of America — but nowhere in Canada or the rest of the Commonwealth — that allow business owners to register a company as a “benefit company.”

Registering “allows business owners to lock in and protect their purpose and mission for the long term, while protecting their right to serve a broad range of stakeholders,” Geiss said.

An owner running a company in a socially and environmentally responsible way would be able to ensure that it would continue to be run that way after they sold it or were otherwise no longer involved. The ability for directors to have goals beyond making a profit would have more legal protection.

“It’s about recognizing that business has a very important role to play in many of the societal issues and challenges of our time, whether it be environmental issues or whether it be social issues there is a role for business and this enables them to do that.” —Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

[Geiss]  hoped other provinces and the federal government would now follow B.C.’s lead, taking a signal from the unanimous support that the idea is non-partisan. “Maybe it’s not as big a hill to climb as the result of one province adopting it for the other provinces to get their heads around.” MORE

Ottawa takes first step with climate emergency declaration, bold action must follow

Prince Edward Council has not declared a climate emergency. Why not? Do they really expect citizens to avoid climate change? Climate leadership is conspicuously missing.

How does this motion measure up to Extinction Rebellion’s core demands?

Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Twitter
On April 24, Ottawa City Council voted in favour of an eight-point motion to declare a climate emergency.

Extinction Rebellion, an international grassroots climate justice group, argues that governments must declare climate and ecological emergencies, and work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. The Ottawa motion lacks language about communicating the urgency for change to the federal and provincial governments, as well as to city residents.

The group also demands that governments act immediately to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. Ottawa’s motion only calls for the city to adopt a target of a 45 per cent reduction in 2010 levels by 2030.

Extinction Rebellion’s third core demand is the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly to lead decision-making and inform the government on climate and ecological justice. While the Ottawa motion calls for the establishment of a Council Sponsors Group, there is no clear indication of how the broader public would be able to meaningfully participate in this process.

What should the Council Sponsors Group, as created by the Ottawa motion, demand?

  1. The City of Ottawa should commit to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, a key demand made by Extinction Rebellion.
  2. The City of Ottawa should commit (as the City of Vancouver is considering) to a target of two-thirds of trips in the city to be taken by walking, cycling, and public transit by 2030.
  3. Given that transportation accounts for more than 30 per cent of Ontario’s carbon footprint, the City of Ottawa should commit to improving public transportation across the city and piloting free public transit (as has been considered in other international cities, including Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Reutlingen, and Mannheim).
  4. Given Ontario Premier Doug Ford has just cancelled the 50 Million tree planting program, the City of Ottawa should commit to an ambitious tree planting program. Paris committed to planting 20,000 trees between 2014 and 2020.
  5. The City of Ottawa should endorse (as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and numerous other cities have already done) the international Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration that pledges to enact regulations and/or planning policy to ensure new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.
  6. The City of Ottawa should explore innovative ideas being pursued by other cities including: green streets and pocket parks to catch and absorb excess rainwater (Copenhagen), initiatives to support energy-efficient retrofits (Melbourne), and the promotion of local food production (Quito has set a goal of producing 30-40 per cent of its food locally).
  7. To pay for some of this, the City of Ottawa should send a climate accountability letter to Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and other fossil fuel corporations to demand they pay their fair share of the costs that cities are incurring because of climate change. The City of Victoria’s motion on this (passed in October 2017) called on other municipalities across Canada to pass similar resolutions.

It is also vital that the City of Ottawa find its voice on the issue of the approval and construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. MORE