It’s been a busy week on the housing front for the Ontario government, which unrolled a number of initiatives, taxes, and new legislation as part of efforts to improve housing affordability.
Yesterday, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tabled new legislation titled the More Homes for Everyone Act. The bill proposes several changes to the provincial Planning Act and City of Toronto act, namely, speeding the housing development and rezoning approval process at the municipal level by reducing the development fees a city receives if decisions are not made within certain timeframes, with a full fee refund after 120 days.
In a “fireside chat” with Clark and Ontario Real Estate Association CEO Tim Hudak, Premier Doug Ford said, “We’re going to cut the red tape, get starts moving even faster, and making sure our friends are working collaboratively with the municipalities, that the permits get issued a lot quicker than they have been issued over the years."
“I’ve walked a mile in their shoes, I get it, I was down in the City of Toronto, and it was called ‘the carousel’; the developers would go down there, they’d throw their application in… it comes off the carousel with their comments, and then guess what -- it goes back on the carousel again, going around and around. So we’re going to make sure we collaboratively work together, and we’re going to focus on the predatory developers, or people who have permits, and are just sitting on them. That’s unacceptable -- they’re waiting for the prices to go up, we need to hold them accountable.”
Other changes brought forth in the legislation include tweaking the Ontario Building Code to allow 12-storey timber buildings, and streamlining multi-unit building approvals. Earlier this week, the province also announced it was increasing the Non-Resident Speculation Tax to 20%, and expanding it province-wide.
Legislation Makes No Mention of Exclusionary Zoning, Infield Density
However, this recent crop of changes has been met with mixed reception.
Affordable housing advocate group More Neighbours Toronto stated they are “very disappointed” in the new legislation, as it failed to bring to fruition proposals previously made by the Housing Affordability Task Force (HATF) to increase infield density and end exclusionary zoning.
In a release, MNTO writes “Today, Ontario’s Provincial Government threw the HAFT report into the garbage.”
“Everyone left out of Ontario’s housing boom, especially young Ontarians, just watched provincial leaders give up on a fair housing future for our generation,” stated MNTO member Alena Parkinson. “By continuing to punt on urgently needed reforms, our leaders are endorsing the housing crisis instead of a better quality of life for all Ontarians.”
The new legislation is being lauded by the construction industry, however. “The More Homes for Everyone Act tabled in the Legislature by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark is the type of forward-thinking action that is needed to help increase the supply of housing in Ontario,” says Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) President Richard Lyall. “The measures being proposed in this legislation are a good first step toward a solution to the crisis.”
“We are falling far short of the number of new homes needed to keep up with our immigration and population growth,” added Lyall. “Demand is only going to increase and our ability to attract talent and business investment very much depends on adequate and affordable housing. The More Homes for Everyone Act is just the first of many steps that must be taken to address the housing crisis.”
Other major provincial political parties have also weighed in.
NDP and Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath seems to concur that the new bill falls well short of its own task force’s recommendations.
"Young people are unable to move out because they can't afford to rent a home, let alone buy one. People are moving away from the community they know and love because they can't afford it," stated Horwath on Wednesday. "We are in a housing crisis, and it's clear that Doug Ford is more interested in his buddies cashing in than in helping families find a home they can afford."
Meanwhile, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca points to the stratospheric growth in the cost of Ontario housing in the time the Ford government took office.
"Under Doug Ford’s four Conservative housing plans, the average Ontario home price has skyrocketed by nearly $500,000, surpassing the $1 million mark for the first time in Ontario's history. Median rent costs have gone up over 11% in a year after Ford cut rent control."
The Green Party of Ontario also targeted the legislation’s exclusion of proposed expanded zoning options for “as of right” fourplexes, as well as failing to implement a province-wide vacant home tax, or a task force to focus on the “financialization of housing”.
“Today’s housing bill could have included real solutions from the Ontario Greens’ masterclass’ housing plan,” stated Guelph MPP and former Green party leader Mike Schreiner. “But instead the government offered up a poorly built, amateur plan that’s a bare bones construction of what’s needed to address the raging housing affordability crisis.
“While I’m glad the government listened to our recommendation and is planning to remove barriers to wood timber buildings, the rest of the plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.”