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Op-Ed: Housing Design Catalogue is “one tool, but not a universal fix”

As both a practising architect and as the president of the governing Council of a provincial architecture regulator, I have been following the national housing design catalogue initiative with a lot of interest—as well as some hope and a little frustration. 

The issue of housing affordability is absolutely critical right across Canada, and architects have an important role to play. Just a few months ago, in October 2023, Statistics Canada released alarming data about housing in our country, stating almost 17 per cent live in a home too expensive for their household income. Unfortunately, the numbers are even more alarming among newcomer Canadians (almost 23 per cent), visible minorities (25 per cent), and those living below the poverty line (69 per cent). 

For more than a decade, the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) has engaged with all levels of government, allied organizations, and other parties to find new approaches to deal with this housing crisis in ways that do not compromise durability, affordability, climate resilience, or safety. It’s a hugely important issue, and one we have made the explicit theme of our Conference this May in Niagara Falls. 

So while swift and innovative actions need to be taken to address housing affordability (and availability!), the federal government’s recent announcement it is commencing discussions about the creation of a house design catalogue does not seem to truly address the problem at hand.

The federal government’s creation of a home design catalogue could leave ample room for error. Standardized design does not consider specific user needs, multi-generational families, aging in place flexibility, site-specific conditions, local bylaws (zoning, drainage, fencing, fill, parking, etc.), or municipal planning approval processes (site plan control, infrastructure, forestry, heritage, etc.).  

A design catalogue can certainly offer an option, but it won’t solve the issue itself. Similarly, the architecture profession is not part of the problem, but rather a key partner in finding the solution. 

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