Capital Gains, for whom?
Updated: Apr 22
Dear Ms. Hobbs, other Councillors, and City Staff,
Thank you, Katherine, for supporting the City of Ottawa report on Low-Rise Infill Housing in Mature Neighbourhoods at the recent Planning Committee meeting. I encourage you to continue this support when the study is discussed at the upcoming full Council meeting May 9, 2012.
I think there is good reason why the Infill development industry would be wise to also support this initiative. Unlike developments in brand-new neighbourhoods, infill in mature neighbourhoods builds directly on the capital of current residents. Every basement renovation, new kitchen, upgraded bathroom and soft-landscaped front yard my neighbours and I have invested in over the years in neighbourhoods such as Champlain Park in your Ward have added many thousands of dollars to the financial capital infill housing development leverages. The countless community events (like our river clean-up campaign next week), neighbourhood watch committees, dedicated community associations, and public expressions of solidarity for neighbours (such as a recent fund raiser for the Kadra Koulmiye family on our street) have also generated enormous social capital that makes our neighbourhoods highly desirable places to live.
The Infill development industry in mature neighbourhoods depends entirely on these and other examples of financial and social capital invested by the neighbours to the homes they are building. These prior investments are key to a business model that makes it possible for a developer to purchase a single house at slightly more than market value, tear it down, and replace it with two ordinary houses that in brand-new neighbourhoods would not have anything near the value they have in the mature neighbourhood. It seems to me that it is time the Infill housing development industry publicly recognize these dynamics and the enormous contribution current residents make to the success of their business.
And what is wrong with building on my capital? Nothing! I am happy to share the benefits and added value my own small investments bring and continue to bring to the Infill development industry (I’m planning some new landscaping this year). I am sure every neighbour shares this same spirit of generosity towards Infill development that is compatible with the patterns that make these such great neighbourhoods in the first place. Bring it on!
The City’s report on Low-Rise Infill in Mature Neighbourhoods (led by Selma Hassan), with its modest improvements to by-laws and other steps to guide and encourage compatibility, are in everyone’s interests. What I object to, and has unfortunately been too often the case, is when an Infill development degrades my capital and the capital of my current neighbours. Our collective investments are compromised too often by new structures that tower over their neighbours, turn front doors into garage doors, raise living spaces up into the clouds, and invade the privacy of every house around it. Not to mention filling every nook and cranny of the lot with structures that choke out every bit of life coming from the ground.
So let’s celebrate the capital gains our communities have created, and welcome Infill developers to add to it with compatible investments of their own. This will give the industry the respect them seem to want, but have so far (too often) failed to earn.