There’s new blood over at the City of Mississauga. The big-ticket thing to note: Carolyn Parrish has been elected mayor, which seems to spell good things for housing. Parrish’s appointment is far from the only win on the housing front, though. Monday night’s election also saw long-time housing advocate and member of More Homes Mississauga, Natalie Hart, elected Ward 5 city councillor, marking the first time in history that a More Neighbours/More Homes member has secured a spot on a Canadian city council.

For her part, Hart was raised in Mississauga and, after living in various parts of Ontario, returned to call the city home more than a decade ago. Per her campaign website, she has served as general manager of the Malton BIA since 2019, which has allowed her to “champion” for business and tourism. In addition, Hart’s focus over the years has been on fostering community, creating good jobs, and building homes for families.

Ahead of being sworn into the role of Ward 5 councillor on Monday, June 24, 2024, Hart spoke to STOREYS about her housing priorities — not only for Ward 5, but for the City of Mississauga on the whole.

Can you shed some light on your background, and what led you to run for city councillor?

The reason I entered this race, truly, is because my own son, he’s 27, left for Edmonton because housing is more affordable there. We have a housing crisis across the nation, there's no question, but it is particularly acute in the GTA.

People at different segments and stages of their lives, it is, of course, a challenge if you don’t not already own a home and you’re in the rental market. If you want to get into the homeownership market, or you want to find a new rental, or if you’re a young person just starting out and looking for that first home and address of your own — it’s no longer attainable, even with two incomes, in order to afford housing in this area.

So that’s the ‘why’ of why I ran in this race, and I'm hoping that now I’ll be in a position to be able to do something about these issues in the long term.

More broadly, what would you say are the main housing issues facing the City of Mississauga?

Really, in Mississauga, the impetus, or the birthplace, if you will, of More Homes Mississauga was the fourplex issue. I was one of those people speaking in favour from the community on the issue of fourplexes, The reason being, I'm originally from the City of Montreal, and Montreal is a city that has many different build forms — triplex, duplexes — and fourplexes are a common part of their landscape, and they are something I see a great space for here in Mississauga.

No type of housing fits everywhere: you don't plunk a single-family home, next to a mega mall, and you don't put a duplex next to a small single-family home either. But there are spaces where we can make things work, and with fourplexes, we need to look at how can we make this work.

More broadly, Mississauga is a designed to be a desirable place to live: it has jobs, it has opportunities, and it has prestige — and property values reflect the desirability. But we also have a need for housing, for many different types of people who work and live in our city.

We’re renovating, for instance, the Trillium hospitals, and we’re going to need 5,000 more health care workers — but where are those workers going to live? And so these are the questions we need to ask ourselves as we continue to grow and continue to be an economic force within the GTA. We're now a net importer of jobs, and if that's going to be the case, there need to be places for people to live.

Are there any Ward 5-specific issues that you can speak to, and how you plan to tackle them?

One of the issues I wanted to talk about and address is the proliferation of illegal rooming houses. Yes, that is housing, but it is unsustainable, unsafe housing. And is often a landlord taking advantage of people that are in precarious living situations — whether they're international students, et cetera — but they don’t have access to all facilities in the house, often, whether that's a kitchen or other facilities. The parking arrangements are less than optimal. There's no inspections for smoke alarms, because these are unregulated. And there's also no regulation or oversight happening on the amount of rent that they’re charging or what the increases look like — or even if the conditions inside are safe.

The other thing, though, that that proliferation is doing is making people see rental as a bad thing. And that is something we need to avoid, because we don't want to have a situation where the word ‘rental’ is synonymous with a poorly regulated and unsafe rooming house. So that is something that I would like to tackle. And the City of Brampton has done work around that, and the City of Mississauga needs to follow. Because we want to have more housing, we need to encourage proper rentals, but it needs to not be taking advantage of people who are in precarious housing situations.

In a more positive light, the City of Mississauga recently announced pre-designed plans for garden suites — I would like to see us take that one step further, and have pre-approved plans for rebuilds within different communities, and also basement renovations, et cetera. There is a real, I think, demand and savings, ultimately, if we could have some pre-approved designs that were available for the community to choose from, because it cuts down on minor variances, major variances et cetera. And it also takes that cost of getting a custom design and a planer out of the experience of creating a legal rental unit in your basement.

And so I think that's something that we really need to be exploring — and as quickly as possible. We also need to look at other cities like Toronto who use an express process, and potentially also exploring the option of having pre-vetted design companies and architects that we work with and have established relationships with as a city, and making sure that we are figuring out a way to expedite their plans or their requests based on their strong previous track record of successful planning decisions. Like, sort of a speed path for those who do it correctly, and on a consistent basis, so that they can ‘use the 407,’ if you will, of design approval processes. Because that approval process is where so many projects get stalled and lost, because they become so financially unsustainable in the wait.

Answers in this interview have been lightly edited and condensed for both length and clarity.