Affordable Housing

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Apr 21

The city of Ottawa speaks out of both sides of its many mouths when it comes to affordable housing.

A young real estate entrepreneur I coach (Don, not his real name) owns a downtown Ottawa triplex in Little Italy. His 2-bedroom ground floor apartment is ideally situated to be divided up into 2, 1-bedroom bachelors each having their own street entrances, which is a sure fire way to add value in and of its own right.

He needs to add one wall, one kitchen and one w/c at a cost of about $20 to $25k. In fact, he thinks he and his dad can do it for less, maybe around $15,000.

When he applied for his building permit, guess what city planners told him?

He’ll have to pay $48,974.00 in fees. Are you kidding? Nearly 50 grand in city charges? Unfortunately not.


Here’s Don’s breakdown:


It’s no wonder that so many real estate investors have gone underground–installed apartments and made other changes without building permits, which Don is not prepared to do.

It can be dangerous for future occupants if things like fire separation, electrical and plumbing are not done properly not to mention any structural changes.

It also exposes the landlord to insurance risk and liability risk as well.

In the past, before the province of Ontario amalgamated all the small towns in this area into one mega city, a planning department head in, say, the former city of Nepean, could look at a situation like this, and realize that official plan policies and zoning regulations were getting in the way of providing more affordable housing. 

S/he could write a site specific bylaw exempting the owner of this triplex from many of these fees and then get council to approve it. They’d do all of this at their (Nepean’s) cost.

If you are worried that this sets a precedent, don’t be. They’d be prepared to do the same for any other landlord caught in the same web.

How do I know Nepean would have done something like this? Because they did it for me personally a couple of times and lots of my clients too…

The city of Ottawa policies are meant to apply to situations where a developer buys, say, three adjacent triplexes, tears them down and puts up a low rise apartment building. So maybe they’ve gone from 9 apartments to 40, not from 3 to 4 like Don proposed to do.

The result?

Don and his spouse have furnished the ground floor 2-bedroom apartment and put it on airbnb at $115 a might or around $3,450 a month; not exactly affordable is it?

But they’re making more money than ever thanks to absolutely shameful Ottawa policies.

I suspect that Ottawa’s overbearing zoning rules and official plan are reducing local GDP growth by at least 0.5% pa. They put a straitjacket on development, developers and entrepreneurs. They make the city’s built form less able to respond quickly to changes in a fast moving global economy. They make the city a less interesting and diverse place. They drive up costs and make it less affordable for renters and first time home buyers. 

If the tech industry was more like real estate, you would drive down your local highway with a cell phone the size of a toaster, towing three semitrailers full of knobs and vacuum tubes to make the darn thing work. 

@ profbruce 

postscript: here are some of Don’s notes–

-moving from 3 to 4 units triggers a new classification, as in: “low rise apartment building"  

-this greatly increase the complexity and costs

-you must have a “professional to draft a site plan and calculate areas for landscaping, provide measurements for width and length of parking spaces,
width of driveway, measurements of lot lines etc.. A survey with hand-drawn portions over-laid on top is unfortunately not acceptable for the purposes of the applications required. The Committee of Adjustment have the authority grant minor variances to performance standards outlined in the Zoning By-law, including landscaping provisions. It is a priority to our Department, however, that
appropriate amenity space and parking standards be met. Therefore, for example, we will be looking to ensure areas in the rear yard, other than space required for the two parking spaces required, is properly landscaped.”

-a Site Servicing Brief needs to be prepared by a certified engineer

-city requires 30% of entire lot must be landscaped and 80% of that must be “soft landscaping” and it must abut the rear lot line

-cash in lieu of parkland is just another tax:

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.