Majority of Windsor-Essex residents rate housing affordability as top issue

House for sale in Windsor-Essex, Ont. on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Chris Campbell/CTV Windsor)

Recent polling conducted in Windsor-Essex shows that housing is the top issue for residents, as they struggle to deal with the ongoing affordability crisis.

Local realtors are calling for action to build more homes, as 6 in 10 or 63% of residents, support more missing middle housing in Windsor & Essex County - housing that can provide most of the features of single-family housing.

Over half, or 51 per cent, want elected officials to step up and take action to make housing more attainable. 

The poll of 700 residents living in Windsor and Essex County was conducted by Abacus Data County, on behalf of the Windsor-Essex County Association of Realtors (WECAR).

At the heart of the affordability crisis according to the polling, is the cost of housing, with 58 per cent of residents who don't own their home saying they're pessimistic or have given up on being able to ever buy a home.

Mark Lalovich, President of WECAR, says residents report having a great quality of life living in Windsor and Essex County, and they also give our elected officials strong marks on most city services.

But, he says the one area where there is a lot of clear frustration and concern is housing affordability. 

"At the City level, a couple of things have to happen. All of the red tape that involves zoning, permitting, and what they call exclusionary zoning. Which is basically just saying that properties are limited to one house, a single family home, those are matters that have to be dealt with because we have to create new units," Lalovich said.

Lalovich says the concerns clearly articulated through this polling should be a call to action to all elected officials in the region that urgent action is needed to build more housing.

According to the poll, 66 per cent of residents in Windsor and Essex County say the availability of housing is "poor" or "terrible." 

While historically housing affordability was an issue most identified with younger generations, the problem now impacts all age groups, demographics, and voter segments.

Many young families are wondering whether they will ever be able to afford a home, according to Lalovich, and with so much business investment coming to the region, he believes they have to get this right. 

He says it's not all about developing greenfield lands for new subdivisions, it's about getting creative, and he believes representatives at the City of Windsor have gotten that message.

"The City of Windsor gets it, in terms of the problem, now we've got to get down to the fixes right. We've got a five point plan with the City, and we're asking them to act on those so we can move this forward quicker."

WECAR's five-point policy plan on the table with the Windsor & Essex County councils includes:

1. Cut zoning red tape to permit more in-fill housing;
2. End exclusionary zoning and legalize missing middle housing;
3. Eliminate parking minimums in downtown areas;
4. Hire more planning staff to support the city and county planning departments; and,
5. Sell surplus city and county land to build affordable housing.

Lalovich says the province has been helpful by changing legislation over the past year that will help create more units, and at the federal level the Housing Accelerator Fund has had a big impact but Windsor is still waiting to hear about their application for those dollars.

According to housing supply targets set by the province, Windsor must build 13,000 new homes by 2031, but currently is Windsor is struggling to meet that target having achieved only 36 per cent of housing starts required. 

Lalovich says a consultant did a study for them across the province which showed Windsor was short planners given the size of the community versus other areas in Ontario, which is why it's one of the things they're stressing needs to change.

"And I realize the City is busy, I mean nobody is thinking that people are down there sitting on their hands. We know they're not, but we think they need more staff and that's been a drum that we've been beating. I've sat at the table with Mayor Drew Dilkens and I think he gets it, and they're doing what they can to try and find the people in order to expand their staffs," he said.

WECAR also held their 2023 fall civic luncheon on Friday, with numerous local representatives and industry experts in attendance to draw further attention to the issue of housing.