By Doug Hallett
Small-scale developers who are buying homes in older neighbourhoods to knock them down and build bigger homes are forcing some young families out of the market. They also hinder the city’s housing-intensification goals, says Coun. Leanne Piper.
Two opposite trends are cancelling out city hall efforts to increase housing density in order to meet Guelph’s growth targets, says Piper.
One trend involves “former suburban homeowners lowering their (carbon) footprints and buying downtown urban condos,” she said. “On the other hand we have people buying large lots in older neighbourhoods to build larger suburban homes, double-car garages, and expanding their footprint.In the past, Piper has criticized what she sees as a trend toward demolishing viable houses in order to build larger ones on those lots. Her criticism has been partly related to what she describes as the environmental irresponsibility of clogging up landfill space with demolition material from such demolitions.
Now she says young couples trying to get into Guelph’s housing market are suffering from this trend, and so are the city’s intensification efforts.
“There must be profit in this new trend or it would not have caught on. But it is also inflating the market in older neighbourhoods beyond what is affordable for a young family buying their first home,” said Piper in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
“Case in point: a small two-bedroom home in an older neighbourhood on a 50×120 lot comes up for sale. An ideal starter home for a young couple with a baby, a yard to play, a house that could support an addition as the family grows, a walkable neighbourhood, parks, schools, etc.
“This family is competing in the marketplace with a developer who plans to tear the house down and build a 3,000-sq.-ft. home and resell.
“Who wins? Not the young family. The neighbourhood begins to change, larger homes dwarf the smaller ones, the diversity and demographics change, and new buyers are priced out of the market.
“Sure, the city gets more tax revenue for the new assessment on the larger home, but not everything we do as we plan and build our city should be about how much tax revenue we get,” she said.
“Affordability, diversity and quality of life in our neighbourhoods are important too.”
Piper, a Ward 5 councillor first elected in 2006, said she is “100 per cent supportive of appropriate infill” development to meet the city’s growth goals to the year 2031, which were created to comply with the province’s Places to Grow legislation.
However, she said the trend to knock down homes in order to build larger ones doesn’t help in terms of city hall’s commitment to growth through infill and intensification.
Piper said there are often valid reasons for demolitions, such as fire damage, mould and structural failure.
“But in 2011 and 2012, so many of the demolitions coming before council were perfectly good houses. Small houses on big lots,” she said.
“I began seeing a new emerging trend – small developers or homeowners purchasing existing housing stock solely for the lot and then demolishing and rebuilding a new ‘surburban’ built form on the lot.”