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Index for my Toronto Budget 2004 project
NIMBY is Everywhere
12/04/2004

Via Jay Jardine, I came across this Trudeaupia posting about barriers to building affordable housing:

To pick one example from Ottawa, a developer would like to build an apartment building in Westboro, which on the surface would appear to be exactly the type of building that anti-sprawl types would want. It’s near the Transitway, doesn’t add to freeway traffic to the suburbs, and increasing the supply of downtown apartments by definition leads to housing being more affordable. This is a simple application of economics 101 – more supply, less scarcity, lower cost. So naturally everyone wants their pound of flesh from this poor fellow who has the nerve to try building what all the bien-pensants claim they want. Anyone who follows any significant urban development will be instantly familiar with the reaction:

  • The buildings too tall – shorten it.
  • There are too many apartments – it will cause too much traffic in my peaceful neighbourhood.
  • They’re taking up precious green space – force them to compensate by setting aside land elsewhere
  • Not in my back yard – find another site.
  • Tax these evil capitalist exploiters

And each of these and other objections will be studied ad nauseum, the developer will grovel, shrink the building, answer every objection with the costly Danegeld required to appease the mob, and after years of suffering the studies, planning committees and associated forms of water torture eventually build a smaller, less dense, far more costly building which is – wait for it – not particularly affordable. The taxes are particularly insane. If you want affordable urban apartments does it really make sense to tax them at three or four times the level of suburban houses? They think they’re taxing developers, but this is just a cost of business that gets worked into the rent.

Most of which I agree with, but that I think Jaeger attributes to the wrong people -- i.e., "Urban activists (such as Jack Layton)". It is true that "urban activists" are sometimes involved in movements that cause trouble for urban developers, but as Jay Jardine points out, NIMBYism is the real problem. Thing is, NIMBYism is found everywhere -- not just among the "affordable housing crowd".

One case in point is the Minto Midtown development that is now being sold at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. I wrote about it during the mayoral election campaign. The project was fiercely fought by the local homeowners' associations. (These are $500k-$1M homes in a traditional establishment enclave.) Meanwhile, it was (conservative) John Tory who attacked ("socialist") David Miller for voting for the plan that ultimately allowed these giant towers to proceed. (Miller would have preferred smaller buildings but generally endorses intensification at transit nodes -- i.e., developers building big buildings.) If I remember right, Tory talked about limiting all buildings north of Bloor to seven storeys (or something like that).

Here's another case in point -- a more recent one in Scarborough where Habitat for Humanity wanted to build 90 homes for low-iincome families at exactly no cost to the public purse. Scarborough community council voted it down. The excuse was "green space" but the reason was pure NIMBYism. The culprits were by no means "affordable housing" types -- they were politicians of all stripes banding together to hold onto the support of voting homeowners.

Just the same, it is the property-value-watching homeowners who frequently seek to protect their investments by controlling what happens around them, such as basement apartments. I can't say that I entirely blame them. On the other hand, I don't see what Jack Layton has to do with it. NIMBYism is everybody's fault. Well, not everybody, but it can be found in every category of person. Not just the left or "urban activisits".


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