Housing and growth

Housing and growth

We’ve all watched house prices soar in the last couple of years. Young families worry if they’ll ever get their own place. Their parents want to help but don’t always have the resources.

Ontario – and especially our region – is growing rapidly. Brantford is a particularly attractive place to live but, unfortunately, our supply of houses hasn’t met the demand.

Ontario’s population is expected to grow by 50 per cent over the next 30 years. The Ontario government forecasts Brantford’s population will grow even faster and by 2051 our city could have 165,000 people, up from 105,000 now.

We’ll need tens of thousands of new housing units to keep up. If we build enough units, we may be able to bend the curve on housing prices. If you have 10 people chasing one house, you see bidding wars. If they’re chasing eight houses, there’s less pressure on prices.

Where are they all going to go? There are two parts to the answer.

First, is infilling. That’s building new housing units on land inside the current city. Often, it’s on empty pieces of land that once housed business or factories. Some good examples are the townhouses going up on the former Canadian Tire property on Colborne Street, and the new apartment tower on Market Street South.

There are thousands more units in the pipeline and, fortunately, a lot of them are rental units. The City of  Brantford has programs to encourage rentals, particularly in the downtown and for privately built affordable housing units done in partnership with CMHC. We’ll phase in property taxes over a 10-year period and waive some development fees to keep the cost of construction down.

Council just approved a 424-unit rental complex on King George Road that will appeal to seniors. That means they’ll move out of their single-family homes, freeing them up for young families to buy.

Infill development has a lot of other benefits. Derelict properties are put to use. More property taxes are collected. Local merchants have new customers. The transit system has more potential riders.

The second part to the answer is what we call the Expansion Lands. That’s land north of Powerline Road to Highway 99 that the city annexed from Brant in 2017.

It has room for about 40,000 people. It also has room for new industries and businesses that will create about 20,000 jobs.

Getting the land ready for development is a big job. The city is conducting environmental assessments to find the best routes for sewer, water and other services to get to this land. At the same time, the landowners and city staff are developing detailed plans. Where will the roads be? Where will the houses go? Where will the stores, businesses, schools, community centres and parks be?

The city’s cost to get services to the land will be about $500 million. However, we have adopted a policy that “growth pays for growth.” Much of the money for the services will come from fees collected on each building lot, not from current taxpayers.

We could see construction in 2024 in some parts of the Expansion Lands that are relatively easy to service. Other parts could see development starting in 2025-26. This area will meet our housing needs for decades.

As people move into the area, we’ll add public amenities such as community centres and likely a new library branch. We could develop a new transit terminal in the north end to serve people travelling east-west from home to work. We will also have to improve our paramedic services and expand Brantford General Hospital to meet the growing demands. The new fire station on Fairview Drive was built to service the Expansion Lands.

The plan for the Expansion Lands includes strong environmental protection for underground water sources (aquifers) and sensitive natural areas, such as the ravines.

For the city as a whole, the growth will bring more opportunities for housing, jobs, entertainment, shopping, education and more.

Managing this growth so it benefits both current residents and newcomers will be a major responsibility of the city and its staff for many years. I’m confident we will do it.