Three researchers from the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment have been awarded funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to work with the community to investigate the lack of family-sized apartment housing despite the recent building boom in the Region of Waterloo.
The affordable housing crisis in Waterloo Region is especially apparent for families due to a lack of suitable low-rise, high-density housing such as low-rise multi-bedroom apartments, row houses, and townhomes.
“These kinds of units are referred to as ‘the missing middle,’” said School of Planning professor Dawn Parker. She added that providing more suitable housing for families in high-density areas such as the central transit corridor would permit a greater number of residents to “grow in place” and have access to transit-oriented development. It would also help the Region to get closer to its carbon reduction goals.
“We are so excited and grateful to the many partners who have been willing to come to the table to collaboratively explore potential solutions to our deeply complex local housing challenges,” Parker said. “Our research builds on our previous productive partnerships and adds valuable new collaborators in the for-profit and non-profits development sectors.”
Professor Parker, Sean Geobey, and Martine August, all professors at Waterloo, have been developing a three-year project titled, “Why did the ‘Missing Middle’ miss the Train?”
By working at the grassroots level with the development industry, the community and public officials, the team hopes to explore local barriers explaining the “missing middle” and identify feasible and efficient potential solutions, such as developing a “missing middle” site plan and finance typologies. Finally, they will test the solutions using land and housing market simulations.
Waterloo Region, in particular, offers a rich backdrop for the work. In 2019 its ION light-rail transit in Waterloo Region was launched with the mission to move people and intensify land use. Those objectives have been reached as more than 2.6 billion dollars were invested in the corridor, allowing more high-rise residential buildings to be developed. However, at the same time as the development, housing in Waterloo Region became much less affordable.
“Developers primarily built single bedroom units to maximize margins,” said Parker. “These units served the Region’s young tech sector workers but failed to meet the needs of families, who are being pinched by increasing demand for a finite number of detached and semi-detached homes.”
The team’s research directly relates to provincial and federal government calls to identify housing supply barriers, as well as solutions. The team’s research is also in line with the Faculty of Environments Strategic Plan by collaborating with external partners to shape their research agenda and co-create and mobilize knowledge.