Conserving Forests and Preserving Housing Affordability

Julia Smachylo

This paper explores and contributes to scholarship on the escalating related concerns of environmental conservation and housing affordability. Situated within contemporary approaches to environmental governance, it explores the use of forest management incentives in southern Ontario to analyze their particular spatial intersection with socio-economic variables and land use change dynamics, with a focus on the relationship between conservation and housing affordability. Research on forest management incentive programs in Canada and the United States has focused on participation and landholder characteristics, but the spatial and development implications tied to changing land valuation dynamics and the impact of environmental regulations has not been extensively covered. Additionally, there is very little published about the ways in which property tax incentive programs, aimed at conserving forest resources in urban, peri-urban and rural residential areas are affected by changing land values and how these programs might impact affordability for owner households. Thus, while the main initiative of these environmental incentive programs has been on forest stewardship, this paper explores their knock-on effects in terms of their externalities.

Within this context I addressed three questions: (1) What is the impact of incentive programs on conserving forests—particularly where are they being used and by whom, (2) the effect on housing affordability for current owners—particularly those of modest means, and lastly, (3) what is the effect on affordability for people of modest means who don’t currently own homes in the area—either current renters or those looking to move to the region. Using a mixed-methods approach that combines qualitative and quantitative analysis to triangulate the results, this study brings together semi-structured interviews with statistical and spatial analysis to illuminate the multi-scalar dynamics of these programs, combining regional and site-specific data with the perspectives of urban planners, environmental consultants and landowners.