housing affordability mixed-use developments

Mixed-use developments may reduce housing affordability: study

Friday, February 9, 2018

Mixed-use developments featuring residential and commercial aspects can make a neighbourhood too pricey for many to live in, according to a University of Waterloo study of Toronto neighbourhoods.

The study, conducted with Waterloo graduate students Nick Revington and Michael Seasons, found that the increased cost, further heightened by the retraction of government funding for affordable housing in mixed-use areas, caused the neighbourhoods to become less diverse. The study also found the increased cost tended to disproportionately impact people in sales and service occupations.

“Making mixed-use neighbourhoods was done with the best intentions for our health, happiness and the environment, but as communities become more attractive places to live, demand to live there increases cost,” said Markus Moos, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning, in a news release. “Walking to a nearby fancy coffee shop is nice, but the premium people pay for that luxury means the barista can’t afford to live near their job. While mixed-use areas were intended to make things more affordable, factors such as the shift to a knowledge-based economy reduced social diversity in the absence of policies designed to keep housing affordable.”

The study examined Toronto neighbourhoods between 1991 and 2006, a time when mixed-use developments were recommended after rethinking previous planning that resulted in decades of urban sprawl. It incorporated existing research on mixed-use developments and housing affordability, which was classified as spending no more than 30 per cent of a person’s income on housing.

“Mixed-use neighbourhoods aren’t inherently misguided. In fact, they do achieve many of their intended outcomes,” said Tara Vinodrai, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. “But, we’re asking who benefits from this? It’s not people in low-income groups or in low-wage jobs. What’s needed now is good policy to follow good planning. This includes inclusionary zoning, density bonuses linked to affordable housing, affordable housing trusts, and other relevant methods.”

The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

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