Housing in Ontario has become difficult to obtain for many people due to both price and availability.
We at the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce believe creating a strategy to encourage tiny homes will help increase housing stock and address some issues relating to housing insecurity. We’ve submitted a resolution on this topic to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce which will be up for debate among members at the Annual General Meeting at the end of April. If approved, it becomes part of the provincial advocacy effort. Our aim is to better utilize a housing niche as one more tool in addressing our current challenges.
Housing is becoming increasingly out of reach for many Ontarians, both in terms of home ownership and rental. The average house price in Ontario has increased by more than 47 per cent over the last two years, with the price of the average home nearing $1 million at the end of 2021. Access to rental homes has challenges as well with vacancy rates remaining low and prices increasing.
The lack of access to housing has driven record numbers of people to other provinces. According to Statistics Canada, our country hasn’t seen this level of interprovincial migration in more than 30 years, with Ontario taking the biggest hit. In the second quarter of 2021, nearly 12,000 more people left Ontario for other provinces than moved here. Many of the people leaving are younger, first-time home buyers — the very people our labour market is desperately in need of.
Others have been left with no home at all. This has been especially evident in the downtown cores of many Ontario communities as years of housing insecurity issues have become much more visible.
A large portion of our need for housing can be met through traditional housing, though the pace of the creation of traditional housing stock needs to increase to meet demand.
One growing niche solution is tiny homes. These homes are typically less than 32 m2 (400 ft2) and are required by the Ontario Building Code to be more than 17.5 m2 (188 ft2). Tiny homes are popular both for people looking to downsize and people who have otherwise been priced out of the housing market. The Province has created allowances within the Ontario Building Code to accommodate these type of residences; however, that has not been incorporated into many municipal zoning bylaws. The rules in municipalities across the province vary widely. This is a particular issue when it comes to minimum size and parking requirements, all of which make it a costly and a highly customized endeavour to create tiny homes either as independent or secondary dwellings.
Encouraging and incentivising municipalities to modernize zoning bylaws in a standardized way that makes it easier to build tiny homes would add to our affordable building stock. This will help make our communities more competitive in attracting and retaining talent and address local housing insecurity issues.
Additionally, there is a growing need for temporary shelter. Non-profit and charitable organizations have been trying to find stopgap housing for the housing insecure. Homelessness and housing insecurity are complicated issues that require a multifaceted approach. Shelter beds are the go-to for many municipalities, but that solution doesn’t work for everyone due to shelter capacity, hours of operation, privacy conditions, sobriety requirements, and interpersonal conflicts. There is an opportunity to amend the Ontario Building Code to use a type of minimalist tiny home as a stopgap shelter for those with no other options. While not an ideal housing situation, temporarily residing in a minimalist tiny home could provide people who would otherwise be sleeping rough with the safety, security, and dignity of a roof over their head, four walls, and a lockable door.
Our recommendations for the Government of Ontario are:
1. Create a strategy for the construction of tiny homes as a tool for increasing housing stock
2. Encourage and incentivize municipalities with the use of existing government programs to incorporate a standard set of guidelines, in alignment with the Ontario Building Code, for tiny home construction.
3. Amend the Ontario Building Code to allow for minimalist tiny homes as a stopgap shelter for people who might otherwise be living rough
Tiny homes offer opportunities to address some of the housing issues our province is dealing with by improving access to affordable housing options and shelter for our most vulnerable. A provincial tiny home construction strategy is needed to further explore and develop this niche while ensuring basic living standards are met.