Housing and identity: Questions about Mississauga’s future as election looms

 MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Ana Chang has lived in Mississauga since the age of seven and is now raising her own children in the southern Ontario city that has seen rapid development over the last three decades. She loves her neighbourhood and the family friendly lifestyle in the municipality just west of Toronto, but worries her [[{“value”:”

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Ana Chang has lived in Mississauga since the age of seven and is now raising her own children in the southern Ontario city that has seen rapid development over the last three decades.

She loves her neighbourhood and the family friendly lifestyle in the municipality just west of Toronto, but worries her three young kids may not be able to make their own lives in Mississauga one day, if they choose, due to the rising cost of housing and uncertainty over what kind of urban identity the city wants to have.

“My husband and I have really good careers, but we also have part-time jobs to be able to afford our mortgage right now,” said the 36-year-old.

“I’m thinking about my kids in the future. When you’re starting out as a new grad, even graduating as a professional, you’re not really making much … I don’t want my kids to face the same financial hard burdens of trying to afford rent in Mississauga when it’s becoming unlivable.”

The city is experiencing a time of transition – its residents are set to elect just the third mayor in the municipality’s history on Monday and in the process have to consider whether and how much they want the city’s landscape to change.

It’s a situation that has brought varying, and sometimes clashing, visions to the forefront while highlighting the challenges the city faces with housing.

Shauna Brail, the director at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said longtime residents have witnessed Mississauga evolve from what was once a “bedroom community” to Toronto into the third largest city in Ontario, and seventh largest in Canada.

To present a clear path forward, whoever becomes the next mayor will have to find a way to connect with residents on what Mississauga should look like in the coming years – whether that’s continuing with more of a suburban image or spurring densification and new affordable housing.

“What is it that makes Mississauga a place? And what are the kinds of things that need to be offered there in terms of diversity of housing, diversity of accessibility to people of different income groups?” asked Brail, whose research focuses on urban economic changes and challenges in cities.

“You also need to be thinking about is this a place where my children will be able to afford a home in the future, where we’ll be able to have jobs, where we’ll be able to sort of have recreational opportunities or cultural opportunities. Thinking about how do we make the place itself.”

Residents’ contrasting expectations demand “a balancing act” that will require the municipality to assess partnerships with stakeholders such as the provincial and federal governments and community members, said Brail, adding that more attention needs to be paid to housing affordability,

The mayoral byelection was triggered when Bonnie Crombie – elected after political powerhouse Hazel McCallion’s 36-year tenure ended – stepped down following her victory in the race to lead Ontario’s Liberal party.

Mississauga’s demand for housing, like most communities in the Greater Toronto Area, has grown in recent years. The average price of a single detached home is now $1.3 million while the wait for subsidized housing could be 18 years or more.

Kelly Singh, with the housing advocacy group More Homes Mississauga, said housing pressure is mounting for many and young people in particular feel they may never be able to afford buying a home in the city their parents raised them in.

“You’ve worked hard, you’ve done everything right, just like your parents did. But that doesn’t seem to have the mileage that it once did,” said Singh, the executive director of the group.

Stakeholders should be “all hands on deck” to find a solution, said Singh, but that urgency hasn’t always been apparent. She highlighted the approval of fourplexes last December, which came only after Crombie invoked strong mayor powers to override council’s rejection of the motion.

Singh believes some councillors voted down the motion because of pressure from residents opposed to increased density.

“What people need to see is that holding on to what you think Mississauga should be forever is having a draining effect on the city where we’ve essentially made it too hard for people to continue to live here,” Singh said.

Community leaders like Bill Johnston, meanwhile, emphasize the importance of development that preserves the local environment and prioritizes consultation.

Johnston, president of the Lorne Park Estates Association, said a current issue in his neighborhood – known for its affluence – is a proposed 11-storey, 178-unit building that would be situated next to a public park near the lakeshore.

“Having that monster building overlooking that area is just so wrong and would be so intimidating for people who are used to using these parks,” Johnston said, noting he’s spoken to community members who have expressed worries that the building could encroach on local conservation areas and recreational space.

“We’re not against housing, we understand the need for it. But at the same time, it’s got to be appropriate for the area. And as far as affordable housing, this isn’t it,” Johnston said, adding that his neighborhood is “happy to look at alternatives” such as single family homes for the space.

Johnston added that his community is open to discussing the proposal with the property developer and the city.

For Matt Kerbel, there’s room for residents to find some sort of middle ground.

Kerbel and his family moved from Burlington to Mississauga in 2011 so he and his wife could have better commutes to their jobs in Toronto. There are various proposals in his neighbourhood to rezone land and build low-rise buildings, which he’s in favour of, despite his concerns of increased traffic.

“I understand why people don’t want high density housing right in their backyard, but I think there’s a compromise somewhere,” Kerbel said.

For longtime residents like Chang, it all comes down to keeping Mississauga a livable place her family can remain in.

“I just hope it becomes a more affordable place,” she said. “A more climate-ready place, more opportunities for immigrants to find work, and housing that will meet the needs of young families.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024.

Rianna Lim, The Canadian Press


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