Transit and Housing: Working Together to Improve Quality of Life for Canadians

Published August 14, 2023.

Transit and housing are currently the two biggest expenditures among Canadian households. The housing shortage and affordability crisis affects all Canadians, but particularly lower-income individuals who also happen to rely heavily on public transit. Why not consider how transit and housing policies can work together effectively to improve the quality of life for Canadians?

CUTA outlined two main approaches to accomplish this. One way is to focus on the proximity of housing to transit routes. This could help increase transit ridership while also addressing housing needs. Additionally, there are many opportunities for housing on underutilized land around existing transit infrastructure. By taking a comprehensive approach, we can make progress on both fronts.

However, government participation and funding are necessary to implement these strategies successfully.
The federal government and the provinces share a common interest in finding solutions that address multiple issues at once. The federal government is particularly focused on maximizing investment outcomes in transit infrastructure and housing for more efficient spending. Meanwhile, municipal governments require funding certainty at the provincial and federal levels to effectively plan and budget for transit capital investment.

The government of Canada is currently developing the Permanent Public Transit Fund (PPTF), which will allocate $3 billion annually in infrastructure funding to transit systems across Canada starting in 2026. This fund will provide long-term stability for municipalities and transit agencies. It is an excellent example of how the federal government supports municipalities while also working towards policy goals such as increasing housing supply and affordability, combating climate change, future-proofing infrastructure, promoting social inclusion, and generating economic benefits. While CUTA is pleased that the fund is being designed to emphasize flexibility and predictability, we hope they’ll accelerate the PPTF timeline to address the immediate need for new transit infrastructure and to ensure state of good repair for existing infrastructure.

To provide additional support to policymakers and transit agencies, CUTA initiated a comprehensive transit and housing study. Policy themes were first discussed at CUTA’s 2022 Policy Forum and then expanded on through a series of in-person consultation sessions in cities across Canada, including Victora, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Virtual consultations were held for participants in other jurisdictions, including Halifax and Winnipeg.
CUTA had several working principles in mind when the research began. These were to increase ridership, maximize capital investment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consider location efficiency in planning for housing and transit, and consider timely and unique factors.

Based on these principles, CUTA developed a series of policy themes. The first theme involves prioritizing lands for transit-oriented development (TOD). The second encourages housing development near existing transit stations and properties. The third theme focuses on ensuring inclusivity and proposes that governments incentivize developers of TODs to include rental and affordable housing units. The fourth theme aims to reduce costs associated with creating more housing supply by streamlining rezoning processes. Finally, the fifth theme aims to prioritize regional collaboration.