Why are housing and transportation unaffordable? Because many public policies favour more costly housing and transportation over more affordable alternatives. Why do these policies exist? Because young and lower-income citizens, the people who need more affordable options, tend to vote less frequently and are less vocal than older and more affluent residents.
Affordable infill usually faces a power imbalance: the residents who fear infill development tend to be older, wealthier and well-organized through their neighbourhood associations, while the main beneficiaries, potential future occupants of lower-priced housing, are unaware of their interest in promoting more affordable housing, and many do not live in that jurisdiction. As a result, there are generally more opponents than advocates for infill development projects.
To increase housing and transportation affordability, young and lower-income citizens should become more politically involved: support public officials that support affordability, attend public hearings and write letters in support of more affordable and inclusive neighborhood developmetn and and more efficient and equitable transportation policies.
Levels of Government
There are three levels of government: municipal/regional, provincial/state, and federal. Since all three levels affect housing and transportation affordability, it is important to vote in all elections.
You can contact your elected officials any time, on their website, email, mail, or in person, to ask them to support an Affordability Agenda, and to support a specific pro-affordability policy or program. For municipal issues, contact your mayor and city councilors. For provincial issues, contact your MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly). For federal issues, contact your MP (Member of Parliament).
Governments sometimes sponsor special meetings or hearings concerning a particular issue, such as whether to implement a new policy or allow a new development project. It is helpful to attend, and if possible, speak speak up for affordability.
Speaking Up For Affordability
Citizens have many opportunities to speak up for affordability:
- Meet with public officials to discuss ways that they can support affordable housing and transportation .
- Speak up at public hearings and workshops to support affordable infill housing development.
- Counter anti-affordability arguments, particularly exaggerated fears of increased housing density and lower-income households.
- Write letters to local newspapers and post messages on community websites to promote affordability policies.
- Be creative and have fun!
When communicating to public officials and the general public, be polite, friendly and clear. Here is a good basic script:
- Explain who you are and why you value affordability.
- Clearly describe what you want done.
- Explain why you think that would be a good outcome. If possible, tell a story or provide statistics that illustrate your point.
Critics often claim that affordable infill development will harm their community, cause excessive traffic and parking congestion, will fail to increase affordability, and that a new development will “spoil their neighbourhood character” meaning that it will attract lower-income, less desirable residents. Most critics already own a home and so have nothing to lose from restricting development.
Similarly, critics of transportation policy reforms often assume that fuel taxes pay for roadways, so pedestrian, cycling and public transit improvements are unfair to motorists. They couldn’t be more wrong. The roads that pedestrians and cyclists use most, and that have most sidewalks and bike paths, are local roads financed through local taxes that residents pay regardless of how they travel. Since automobiles require far more road space than other modes, people who drive less than average subsidize the roadway costs of their neighbors who drive more than average. It is only fair that governments invest in pedestrian, cycling and public transit improvements in order to guarantee that everybody, including residents who don’t drive, receive a fair share of public investments in transportation infrastructure.
Here are examples of messages you can use in response:
- “You have yours [a home in a walkable urban neighborhood], now give other people a chance by allowing more affordable infill development.”
- “We need more affordable housing in our community. Restricting infill development reduces the number of people who can live in a neighborhood, and lower-income households are always the first to be excluded.”
- “It is far better to accommodate new residents in walkable urban neighborhoods than in automobile-dependent sprawled areas.”
- “Heritage and wildlife habitat preservation are important, but we must offset with higher densities elsewhere. If we restrict development in one area, you should support additional development in walkable urban neighborhoods.”
- “Increasing density is good, because most people are good. The affordable housing built in your community may be your future home, housing for your care-giver, or a home for your best friend. Affordable infill development will allow you to age in place.”
- “Even if the new housing is not affordable now, by increasing supply it will help reduce housing prices, particularly in the future as older housing depreciates in value.”
- “Restricting infill development increases overall traffic and parking problems by forcing more households to live in automobile-dependent suburbs where households own more vehicles and drive more than they would if they could locate in a walkable urban neighborhood.”
- “Minimum parking requirements are inefficient and unfair because they reduce housing affordability, increase sprawl, and force people who don’t own a vehicle to subsidize the parking costs of their neighbors who do. There are better ways to solve parking problems through better management of existing parking spaces.”
- “Our community [or province] already invests huge resources in roadways to accommodate cars. It is time to invest more in walking, cycling and public transit, so those of us who need affordable alternatives to driving have viable transportation options. We want our fair share!”
It can be useful to point out examples of policy biases that favour expensive housing and transportation, and restrict or underinvest in affordable options, and ask that they be corrected to give physically and economically disadvantaged residents a fair chance.