Real estate professionals are celebrating the sweeping new housing legislation introduced by the Ford government on Tuesday, hailing it as a progressive change that will help to get more homes built quickly. But environmentalists and affordable housing advocates are raising some red flags.
The new legislation, if passed, would allow multiple units as of right on all residential lots, cut development fees, and bar residents or environmental groups from appealing a development to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) -- all major wins for developers. At the same time, the legislation would limit affordable housing requirements, constrict the oversight of conservation authorities when developing conservation land, and reduce public consultation for new developments.
"This is the most bold and comprehensive pro-homeownership and pro-housing legislation we have seen potentially in Ontario's history," said Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak. " It will make Ontario a leader in Canada at getting homes built that people can actually afford."
The legislation, entitled the More Homes Built Faster Act, heavily focuses on adding housing supply to the province as a means to address Ontario's affordability crisis. Although it proposes nearly 50 different legislative changes, the one item that appears to have support across the board is a move to allow three units as of right on all residential properties across the province, for which the development charges would be waived.
"I'm pleased that we're seeing the change," said Dave Wilkes, President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association. "This really is a generational bill to address a generational challenge, and I'm very encouraged that this will create a different framework, a different culture, a different approach."
Wilkes' remarks were echoed by Trolleybus Urban Development Founder and CEO Doug Hochglaube, who pointed to the very lengthy approval processes that currently exist for developments, with little difference in approval times between small, low-rise buildings and skyscrapers.
"This allows us the opportunity to assemble maybe one or two parcels and bring about a six-unit typology and cut through the bureaucracy of bringing that to the market and providing different types of housing formations," Hochglaube said. "Six months ago, it wouldn't be economical to do that. It would be the same amount of time, effort, and energy to bring about that type of housing as it would to bring about a 40-storey built form."
On the tenant side, Spokesperson for Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario Genrys Goodchild also expressed support for the increased density, albeit with one caveat.
"This is one of the positive pieces of the legislation," Goodchild said. "We support measures that encourage gentle density to create a greater array of rental housing. However, these new units would not be protected by rent control, and rents are unaffordable for many people already."
Lowering costs for developers to lower costs for residents.
In what appears to be a trickle-down approach, the Province has vowed to reduce costs to developers through lower fees. If the legislation passes, there would be reduced parkland requirements for higher density residential developments, reduced community benefit charges, and an extension of development charge review periods from five to 10 years. Rental developers would also see development charges lowered, with discounts given to family-sized units. These fees, many developers say, typically end up getting passed on to buyers and renters, resulting in even more expensive housing.
"Our research has indicated that up to $250,000 in additional costs are created through government fees and charges at all three levels -- municipal, provincial and federal -- half of which is the result of municipal charges," Wilkes said. "So I think that sends a very strong message that there needs to be a rebalancing of those costs."
In another move aimed at saving time and, consequently, money, the province vowed to slash red tape and move development applications along more quickly. To do so, the number of approvals required on a development would be reduced, site plan control requirements for developments with less than 10 units would be removed, and for larger projects, reviews would focus on health and safety issues rather than architectural or decorative details. Urban Planner and Founder of Smart Density Naama Blonder voiced her support, underscoring the importance of moving these applications through.
"The site plan on its own currently takes a year, so expediting a site plan based on safety rather than design, I think it's a very smart move," Blonder said.
The legislation also seeks to scrap third-party appeals to the OLT, meaning those not directly involved in the development, including residents or environmental groups, couldn't file a complaint. The move is meant to alleviate the OLT backlog and prevent developments from costly delays.
"Sadly, the ability to have an appeal to the Tribunal has been badly abused and that's cost us a lot of homes," Hudak said. "If people oppose projects, they should have the right to do so, but the battle should be at that council, not another logjam in the system."
But how much more affordable will housing really be?
Karen Chapple, director of School of Cities and professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto, noted that although the plan will help get more housing built, she's unconvinced that it will address the affordability issue.
"We need both market-rate and affordable housing," Chapple said. "This plan provides a great start for the acceleration of construction of market-rate units, but does not help the affordability problem. Instead, it seems to assume that the market-rate units will trickle down to lower-income households. Some will -- but that process will take decades. So we need intentional government action to ensure that we build and preserve affordable housing units."
Although the legislation does offer relief from development charges for builders constructing affordable units, it also implements strict Inclusionary Zoning limitations on the number of units that can be affordable, and how long they can be affordable for. Up to 5% could be made affordable for a maximum of 25 years. This is a stark contrast to the City of Toronto’s new inclusionary zoning policy passed last fall that calls for 22% affordable units by 2030 with a minimum affordability period of 99 years. The province confirmed that cities with policies that go beyond the newly proposed provincial caps would have to revise their regulations to conform.
"This measure is detrimental for those in need of affordable rental housing and we struggle to see how it will help solve the housing crisis," Goodchild said. "Capping at 5% and reducing the affordability period to 25 years defeats the purpose of keeping rental units affordable and sustainable over the long term. We currently do not have anywhere enough affordable rental housing as is, and we are losing our existing affordable housing at a fast pace."
Blonder, while noting that Inclusionary Zoning is good in theory, says the numbers often don't add up, with the cost of building these lower priced units passed onto the other residents. In fact, when asking developers she's worked with what they find to be worse -- development charges or Inclusionary Zoning -- the response has consistently been Inclusionary Zoning.
"The problem with it is that you make 10% affordable, who's going to pay for it? The [other] 90% in the building," Blonder. "So instead of making affordable housing something that we're all sharing as a city, it just puts it as a tax on a small group of people which is the new the 90% of the new residents."
The legislation also proposes revising its rental replacement rules when it comes to new developments, with the Province saying the current regulations that require replacing a specific number of units at specific sizes can "prevent renewal, limit the supply of rental units, and lead to deteriorating housing stock." Goodchild, however, disagrees with that characterization, saying "the affordable housing crisis is simply too severe to enact this kind of legislation."
"In reality, it’s one of the only measures municipalities have available that guarantees a continued supply of affordable rental units," Goodchild said. "If the province were to scrap or weaken the rental replacement rules, it would be a devastating blow for many renters in Ontario."
The issue of building on wetlands.
Environmentalists have taken aim at a section of the legislation that limits conservation authorities’ input on developments to issues of natural hazards, such as unstable soil or bedrock. This means they would no longer be able to consider factors like pollution and conservation of land.
The policy would also require conservation authorities to identifying lands "suitable for housing," and streamline conservation authority processes to facilitate faster development.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner lambasted the move.
“A year and a half ago the Ontario Greens put forward a masterclass housing plan that didn’t compromise our environment and showed how the province could solve the housing crisis," Schreiner said in a statement. "We can and must build the right kind of housing in the right places. Greens are ready to work across party lines to achieve this. But it makes no sense to risk putting people’s homes in harm’s way by weakening the ability of Conservation Authorities to protect people’s homes from flooding."