The region’s housing market could do with more family-friendly rental options, suggest a new report from the University of Waterloo.
A master’s thesis by planning student Xinyue Pi, “Exploring Rental Housing Markets in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario,” suggests the market is underserved in that capacity.
That doesn’t warrant increased suburban sprawl, however, notes planning professor Dawn Parker, who supervised the thesis work.
“It is difficult to make a strong argument that we should open more land for development but people are still trying to do it. The cost of sprawl is so high whether it’s the environmental cost, you can’t replace agriculture lands once it’s gone. Land markets will not appropriately protect agriculture lands; they don’t work in that aspect,” said Parker. “Obviously we have higher congestion costs, higher personal costs for people who are stuck in cars, higher municipal costs for provisioning services. The sprawl model we know does not work for the environment, for quality of life or for fiscal purposes.”
As part of the thesis work, invitations were mailed to a random sampling of 2,912 rental households in K-W polling people about residential location choice, renting experience and behaviours and perceptions about the impact of the region’s light rail transit line, yielding 290 survey responses.
The survey identified a demand for family-friendly rental options, including three- and four-bedroom units, that is currently going unmet in the cities.
While acknowledging the need for larger units, Parker holds firm to the idea the housing be built inside the cities rather than relying on the traditional model of low-density sprawl that has spilled over into the townships.
“Although the research illustrates unmet demand for single-detached housing, the results do not justify opening new lands for development,” Parker said. “There remains sufficient buildable land already inside our cities, and the costs of further sprawl – high infrastructure costs, traffic congestion, and loss of agricultural land and ecosystem services – in my view far outweigh the benefits of new low-density housing.”
Specifically to outlying areas in the townships, Parker references the quality of life found within hubs of residential areas, with the added benefit of not wiping out agricultural land to add to urban sprawl from the cities.
“We have these lovely small communities that have room for growth in the single-detached market like Elmira, New Hamburg and other communities. Now with a bus link from Elmira, it is very likely over time that we will see it becoming better to Waterloo and that gives people an opportunity for quality of life they are looking for. Using those opportunities for development without getting those communities beyond their scope, it might be a nice alternative to relaxing those sprawl boundaries in Kitchener-Waterloo,” she said.
As John Scarfone, manager of planning with Woolwich Township, explains, although they are not able to compel builders to provide rental options, developments in Elmira specifically are working towards offering a variety of rental options, including that of single-family homes, rather than the one size fits all model.
“We are requiring in those subdivisions that there are a broad mixture of housing types that can go in there. For example, the Lunor devlopment,” Scarfone said. “We prescribed other forms of housing like apartments to go in there, so that you’re going to get various forms of housing – people can rent housing there. There is a diverse mix, from apartments to townhomes, small lot singles to large lot singles. You’re going to get people with a range of income levels that could live in those areas. Then we have strategic areas within our built-up area where there may be areas that you can intensify a little bit more and add some density.”
Increased density and urban infilling, usually applied to so-called brownfield land, is a requirement of provincial legislation.