Barely two months after its inception, the newly-minted Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force has released its official recommendation for the province to increase supply and housing accessibility, via a 55-part proposal that would considerably weaken municipal powers if implemented.

The report outlines a lofty goal of 1.5 million new homes to be built over the next 10 years -- which would require doubling existing construction output -- with a few key changes, some of which would drastically overhaul how residential projects are zoned, applied for, and governed.

The report notes house prices have nearly tripled over the last decade and calls for a focus on ramping up supply to meet the needs of Ontario's growing population rather than policies designed to cool market demand. The average cost of an Ontario home cost $923,000 at the end of 2021, an increase of 180% from 2011, in contrast to only a 38% increase in incomes.

"Parents and grandparents are worried that their children will not be able to afford a home when they start working or decide to start a family. Too many Ontarians are unable to live in their preferred city or town because they cannot afford to buy or rent," writes Jake Lawrence, Chair of the Housing Affordability Task Force and CEO and Group Head of Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank, in an open letter to provincial housing Minister Steve Clark.

"The way housing is approved and built was designed for a different era when the province was less constrained by space and had fewer people. But it no longer meets the needs of Ontarians. The balance has swung too far in favour of lengthy consultations, bureaucratic red tape, and costly appeals. It is too easy to oppose new housing
and too costly to build. We are in a housing crisis and that demands immediate and sweeping reforms."

That the report so aggressively focuses on supply has been lauded by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, which has raised numerous red flags regarding the long-term lack of inventory in the Greater Toronto Area.

"The GTA remains the primary destination for new immigrants and is at the centre of the Canadian economy. For far too long, governments have focused on short-term band-aid policies to artificially suppress demand," stated Kevin Crigger, TRREB President. "Current market activity highlights decisively that these policies do not work, and unless governments work together to cut red tape, streamline the approval processes, and incentivize mid- density housing, ongoing housing affordability challenges will escalate. On this point, we commend the City of Toronto for moving forward with initiatives to facilitate the creation of more mid-density home types, including their current deliberations on options to encourage more multiplex development across the city."

The Task Force is calling on the province to amend the Planning Act to incorporate their suggestions; according to CBC, the province will be looking to push through legislation to implement a number of them in the next Queens Park sitting, prior to the June 2nd provincial election.

Overriding Exclusionary Zoning

A big standout within the proposal is the defanging of existing municipal exclusionary zoning, which allows for only a single- or semi-detached home to be built on a lot, rather than higher-density, multi-family housing. The Task Force estimates 70% of land within Toronto is zoned in this manner -- often referred to as the city's "Yellow Belt" -- which it says greatly limits the potential for infill and gentle density.

The Task Force recommends "as of right" housing -- the ability to bypass existing by-law restrictions -- to automatically allow up to four units with a maximum of four storeys on a single residential lot. Additional infill home types, such as secondary suites, garden suites and laneway housing would also automatically be allowed.

Read: Toronto Gives Garden Suites the Green Light

“We are particularly pleased that the task force is recommending changes that would lessen the grip that municipalities have over developments and provide the province the tools to increase density in neighbourhoods that are zoned exclusively for single-family homes as well as speeding up construction of much-needed new housing by legislating timelines for development approvals," says Richard Lyall, President of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON)

"Yes In My Backyard"

The report also takes a significant swing at NIMBYism, suggesting changes to existing public consultation processes to override concerns due to "preserving neighbourhood character", which will further help "de-politicize" the construction approval process.

"NIMBYism is a large and constant obstacle to providing housing everywhere. Neighbourhood pushback drags at the approval process, pushes up costs and discourages investment in housing. It also keeps out new residents," reads the report. "While building housing is very costly, opposing new housing costs absolutely nothing."

"Unfortunately, there is a strong incentive for individual municipal councillors to fall in behind community opposition... The outcry of even a handful of constituents (helped by the rise of social media) has been enough, in far too many cases, to persuade their local councillor to vote against development even while admitting its merits in private."

These measures would include:

  • Repealing or overriding municipal policies, zoning, or plans that prioritize the preservation of physical character of neighbourhood

  • Exempting projects with 10 units or less from site plan approval and public consultation if they require only minor variances
  • Establish province-wide zoning standards, or prohibitions, for minimum lot sizes, maximum building setbacks, minimum heights, angular planes, shadow rules, front doors, building depth, landscaping, floor space index, and heritage view cones, and planes.
  • Prevent "abuse of the heritage preservation and designation process" by disallowing bulk designations, reactive heritage designations after a development application has been filed and, perhaps key, requiring municipalities to compensate property owners for loss of property value as a result of heritage designations, based on the principle of best economic use of land.

The report also suggests the creation of an Ontario Housing Delivery Fund that would financially incentivize municipalities who meet or exceed building targets, reduce approval timelines, and remove exclusionary zoning practices, while municipalities that fail to meet newly-set growth targets and approval timelines would see their funding cut back.

Read: Modular Housing Offers a Solution to Toronto's Housing Crisis... But NIMBYs Aren't Happy

"Cutting Red Tape"

An oft-repeated promise of the provincial government has been to ease and simplify the application and approval process for new construction. Citing a 2020 study that finds major Ontario centres have among the slowest approval timelines of Canadian cities between 20-24 months (not including a two-year permit process), several suggestions have been raised to push projects through faster, targeting the lengthy legislation, regulations, by-laws, studies and guidelines currently in place.

They're especially looking to expedite any appeals that go through the Ontario Land Tribunal. The Task Force estimates there are currently 1,300 unresolved cases sitting at the appeal level, due in part to a low barrier to apply; any individual can do so, pending a $400 fee.

The recommendations would require appellants to seek permission and demonstrate their appeal has evidence-based merit. They'd also require a $10,000 fee for third-party filed appeals, and remove right of appeal for projects that have at least 30% affordable housing units, guaranteed for a 40-year timeline.

In the case where it is found a municipality has refused an application simply to avoid approval based on lack of decision, the tribunal would be awards the power to demand punitive damages.

“This task force report is certainly welcome news for developers, builders and those in need of housing,” says Lyall. “We are in the middle of a housing crisis and can no longer tinker around the edges and apply band-aid solutions. It is time for concrete measures to speed up the housing development process.”