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Is the 15-minute neighbourhood the solution to Canada’s housing crisis?

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As Canada grapples with a housing crisis, the need to build more homes across all markets is widely acknowledged. However, the task is far from simple. Challenges such as labour shortages, climate change risks, and the unintended consequences of gentrification complicate the equation. 

In light of these complexities, Re/Max Canada’s report, “The 15-Minute Neighbourhood: Lessons for Small Communities,” presents a strategy to address the housing crisis. 

The report focuses on the 15-minute neighbourhood concept, which aims to make daily necessities easily accessible within a 15-minute walk, bicycle ride, or transit trip from home. The report underscores the importance of what it calls a pragmatic approach in addressing the housing crisis and catering to the needs of a larger population while ensuring maximum liveability and affordability. 

It specifically highlights the significance of implementing this concept in smaller municipalities that are witnessing rapid growth. By adopting the principles of the 15-Minute neighbourhood, the report explains communities can provide the right supply of housing that meets the diverse needs of Canadians and creates sustainable and vibrant neighbourhoods.

The housing crisis and the need for a comprehensive strategy


According to Christopher Alexander, president of Re/Max Canada, it is crucial for private and public interests to collaborate and implement a comprehensive national housing strategy.

“By rethinking the design, relevant government policies and zoning bylaws applicable in our neighbourhoods and integrating all the complex layers within existing developed land areas, we can achieve a more effective and comprehensive national housing strategy,” Alexander says. 


Balancing liveability and affordability


Elton Ash, executive vice president of Re/Max Canada, emphasizes that a home’s value lies within a dynamic neighbourhood that provides essential amenities, diverse transportation options and green spaces. 

Ash adds, “Without schools, libraries, small businesses, enterprise and green spaces, as well as accessible and diversified transportation, the home becomes empty inventory.”


Key findings


The report includes findings from a Leger survey commissioned by Re/Max Canada, shedding light on Canadians’ perspectives on the 15-minute neighbourhood concept. 

The survey revealed that the lack of available and accessible transit options was among the top three pain points for Canadians in their communities. Non-drivers were more likely to believe in the achievability and feasibility of the concept. Additionally, a majority of respondents expressed a desire for better diversity and balance in transportation modes and believed that such neighbourhoods could contribute to climate goals.

Canada’s ambitious plan to construct millions of new housing units over the next decade faces significant challenges. The foremost requirement is a robust labour force, which the country currently lacks. While recent immigration programs aim to address this, the construction and trades sectors still suffer from a chronic deficit of workers. 

Moreover, building new homes necessitates investments in both soft and hard infrastructure to support growing populations and mitigate climate change risks. Ensuring affordability and avoiding gentrification are also crucial considerations.

“We agree that Canada needs to invest in building a lot more homes in the next decade, but it must be the right kind of housing within the context of the wider neighbourhood, its socioeconomic diversity, and indeed with climate as a constant potential disruptor,” says Alexander. “We need to invest in new soft and hard infrastructure.

“If we want to make strides toward sustainable, long-term affordability and liveability, we must use existing land more pragmatically and create cities, towns and neighbourhoods that offer a mix of housing types with a vision for quality of life at the forefront,” Alexander adds. 


Lessons and recommendations


The report presents several key learnings and recommendations for building the ideal 15-minute neighbourhood:

  1. Diversity within densification: Creating a variety of home types and sizes within each neighbourhood, including high-rise, mid-rise, semi-detached, and mixed-income housing.
  2. Hard and soft infrastructure: Developing the necessary soft and hard infrastructure, such as transportation systems, public amenities, and green spaces, to support thriving communities and enhance the quality of life.
  3. Transforming empty space: Utilizing empty commercial real estate, retail spaces, and parking lots to develop residential dwellings. Governments should streamline zoning laws and incentivize developers to repurpose these spaces.
  4. Balancing transportation: Designing cities and neighbourhoods that encourage and support various modes of transportation, including bike lanes, accessible public transportation, and pedestrian-friendly pathways.
  5. Offering a mix of housing: Incorporating a mix of housing options, including market housing, subsidized housing, mixed-income housing, and co-ops, to promote equitable housing and prevent gentrification.

“There is a misconception that the 15-minute neighbourhood is new – in reality, as many of our agents and brokers in cities such as Brampton, Ottawa and Regina have indicated, principles of this concept are already in place and likely to expand in Brampton and Ottawa,” adds Ash. 

“There’s growing consumer demand for neighbourhoods that allow residents to achieve work-life balance, greater affordability and access to amenities that boost quality of life — a trend that we expect will continue to gain momentum in the coming years.” 

Find the full report from Re/Max Canada here.


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