In February, when the province-appointed Housing Affordability Task Force released its extensive recommendations to rapidly build more housing, reaction was expected to be divisive. However, tensions appear to be increasingly growing between municipalities voicing their concerns over the task force’s broad-strokes policies, and housing advocacy groups, who say bold action is needed more than ever to improve housing supply.

The City of Mississauga has been especially vocal in its response, releasing a detailed public “report card” on March 8th. In it, the City details what it supports and opposes of the Task Force proposals. Getting the green light is the removal of exclusionary zoning, improved support for the creation of purpose-built rentals, as well as the establishment of the Ontario Housing Delivery Fund, which would reward municipalities for growth and reductions in approval times.

What Mississauga red flags -- in alignment with a number of other Ontario municipalities -- is the province granting “as of right” allowances for in-fill housing up to four units and four storeys high on lots designated for single-family dwellings, limitations being placed on heritage designations, and changes to the development appeals process, among others.

This in turn has drawn criticism from More Neighbours Toronto (MNTO), a volunteer GTA-based pro-housing movement that targets bad housing policy, as well as racial, generational, and income-based injustices that prevent the sufficient housing of Canadians. The organization published a written response to Mississauga’s report card, along with a series of scathing tweets.

“Mississauga opposes ‘broad policy solutions’, and instead wants to stick to their current plan of intensifying one town centre at a time while leaving everything else intact,” wrote MNTO member Bilal Akhtar. “Their lack of ambition is wildly out of scale with the reality of the housing crisis.”

“Steeped in Inertia”

Akhtar tells STOREYS that while he can understand why municipalities may have pushback against the Task Force’s recommendations, their lack of action on housing creation thus far means bold action is warranted.

“I do agree that municipalities have a right to be worried, but only because they don’t see the scale of the challenge; they are in a position where they’ve been steeped in this kind of inertia where they do not see the scope of the housing prices, and this is something we brought up in the response to Mississauga -- that they simply do not acknowledge the extent of the housing prices and now 1.5M homes need to be built in the next 10 years, which the Housing Task Force gets right,” he says. 

Of particular note is MNTO’s observation that Mississauga is the only Canadian municipality of over 150,000 that has lost population between 2016-2021 -- a phenomenon that can be attributed to the city’s mix of low intensification and sprawl, Akhtar explains.

“Mississauga’s response to our response probably would be, ‘Hey look, we are intensifying a lot around Square One and Erin Mills Town Centre,’ but that is not enough to make up for young people leaving, that is not enough to make up for people downsizing, converting larger homes into single-family homes and things like that -- and household size is shrinking. So the reason we focused so heavily on Mississauga losing population is we wanted to highlight that just a little bit of intensification here and there is not enough to address the real demand shortage, and that Mississauga is actually doing less than its part in accommodating growth in the GTA,” he says.

READ: Will the Housing Affordability Task Force's Proposal Truly Add Missing Middle Housing?

However, according to Jason Bevan, Director of City Planning Strategies, City of Mississauga, there are additional factors at play that have impacted Mississauga’s population decline, such as the aging of its base, and the impacts of COVID-19, which reduced immigration. He also notes that while Mississauga did have a period between 2018 - 2020 where fewer housing projects were completed than average, “this has ramped up significantly over the last two years.”

“Development between 2016-2021 very much occurred where our Official Plan intended growth to occur. This includes the Downtown Core, Uptown Node and the rest of LRT corridor and Erin Mills,” he wrote in an emailed response to STOREYS.

He adds that Mississauga has been very focused in the creation of new affordable housing via its strategy, with measures taken such as pre-zoning the downtown core for faster development, and adopting an electronic development application submission process.

“Responsible Development Has to Win Out”

What’s perhaps lost in the back-and-forth between accusations of NIMBY-ism and the push for more housing, is whether development is moving forward responsibly, says Mississauga Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko. He held a virtual community meeting on March 22 about the Task Force with residents of his ward, which encompasses Port Credit, Lakeview, and Mineola: some of Mississauga’s highest-density and developed communities.

“One of the concerns with this report is, it treats everything the same… We’ve got Lake Ontario, and we’re not doing anything with Lake Ontario -- it’s a definite ending point -- and then we’ve got Lakeshore which is a challenge already, and then we’ve got a railway track, which is essentially north of Lakeshore, and then we’ve got the QEW,” he says. 

Much of the NIMBYisms being hurled are coming from “armchair quarterbacks” he adds, which fail to take into account the development already underway in the community; Ward 1 has more than 33% of all committee adjustment applications, particularly for lot splitting in order to increase infield density. There are also a number of developments, such as Brightwater, expected to bring 3,000 residential units to the area.

“Responsible development has to win out,” he says. “Every time I see a marketing brochure, whether it’s for Port Credit, which is very popular right now, or for Lakeview, which is getting popular, or City Centre -- it’s always focusing on the lake, the lighthouse we have in Port Credit. They show people walking down the boardwalk, the lake view, and all the boats; but this is, unfortunately, what they’re putting more and more pressure on, and you stifle out the lifestyle. I truly think if you’re selling lifestyle, it should be responsible, and that’s why [both] I and the city, [have] got some challenges for this.”

“We know that we need more housing for everybody, but there’s a responsible way to do it, and I don’t think doing everything carte blanche addresses affordability. I think the name “Affordable Task Force” is also misinterpreting. What it should be saying --because all it’s saying is -- ‘You can build.’ It’s not saying you’re going to do anything to address affordability.”