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Municipal policy and program options for affordable home ownership: a City of Toronto case study Urquhart, Heather J.


As the level of government closest to people, municipalities are left face-to-face with the failures of the housing market and the lack or failure of senior-level government housing programs. The federal government has practically withdrawn from social housing since the mid-1980s, and most of its home ownership programs do not address home ownership affordability. The Ontario government is the only provincial government to step into the gap, and it is now under increasingly serious financial pressure. Municipalities, therefore, are often looking for ways in which they can help ameliorate their local housing problems, though they have a much more limited tax base upon which to draw. The question this paper attempts to answer is, "What kinds of home ownership assistance programs could municipalities undertake to meet their housing policy objectives?" The question in these tight fiscal times also encompasses, "How can municipalities undertake such a program at minimum cost?" This paper reviews, categorizes, and assesses a variety of home ownership assistance program mechanisms from Canada, Britain, the United States, and Australia. It identifies a set of options and means to implement them that are most likely to effectively meet the needs of municipalities. It presents, through the City of Toronto case study, a process by which municipalities can characterize their housing market for their low-to-moderate income citizens. The "affordability gap" -- the gap between housing prices affordable to those households and local costs to produce adequate housing for them -- is one useful measure of the depth of the problem, of the potential cost of addressing it, and a rule against which to measure the effectiveness of various possible assistance measures. One implication of this paper is that a quite detailed analysis of the local housing market demand and supply is needed to identify the most effective and lowest-cost home ownership assistance measures.

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