The province’s construction industry is calling upon newly re-elected housing minister Steve Clark to move aggressively on creating new housing supply, taking particular aim at exclusionary zoning -- a practice that limits higher density development in residential pockets originally zoned for single-family housing.

The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) points out that in the City of Toronto specifically, 70% of land is currently zoned for detached houses, greatly curtailing the creation of infill housing.

“Exclusionary zoning restricts even the most modest forms of density in residential neighbourhoods and empowers NIMBY groups opposing housing,” writes RESCON President Richard Lyall in a public letter to Clark.

“As more people and new immigrants flock to Ontario, more sensible land use policy is needed to allow for housing density, including fourplexes, small low-rise apartment buildings and mid-rise housing along avenues and corridors already well served by mass transit.”

READ: GTA Realtors Propose Election Winners Drop Exclusionary Zoning

Lyall goes on to suggest that the province should go as far as to restrict municipalities from creating and enforcing exclusionary zoning policies, as "ending exclusionary zoning would help spur missing middle housing.” 

Another “critical” matter Lyall says the province must address to achieve its goal of 1.5M homes by 2030 is the digitizing and streamlining the building approvals process, which is currently decried by developers for its sluggish pace. While e-permitting programs do exist in some municipalities, they’re often siloed and short-staffed, says Lyall, which further fuels building delays.

“An absence of consistency in data and information exchange among stakeholders has resulted in slow adoption of advanced e-permitting systems. If left unaddressed, inefficiencies in the development approvals process will continue to dissuade building, curtail economic growth, and lead to fewer new builds,” he writes, adding that province-wide zoning standards and legislated approval timelines would be key to speeding up new housing creation.

The latter has already been written into legislation as part of the More Homes for Everyone Act, which received Royal Assent in April. The Act ‘incentivizes’ municipalities to make timelier decisions on development and rezoning applications in the form of lost application fees; if a municipality fails to meet its decision deadlines, it would be required to refund portions of development fees on a sliding scale. If the decision process surpasses 120 days, the entire fee would be refunded.

Consultations to create a development data standard among municipalities also kicked off in March, spearheaded by Clark as well as Associate Minister of Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed as part of the Ontario Data Authority Initiative.

“The absence of consistency in data and information exchange among stakeholders has resulted in: the slow adoption of advanced electronic permitting systems; antiquated information sharing work flows with no regulatory oversight amongst governments; a lack of digital processes between applicants and government approval agencies to streamline the review process,” writes Lyall. “If left unaddressed, inefficiencies in the development approval process will dissuade building investment, hamper economic growth and the delivery of new housing supply.”

He says RESCON has been working with the province via the One Ontario coalition, to propose a digital platform for the development approvals process.

The final piece, the council says, is to to address “abuses” of heritage registers, which they say can be leveraged to stymie and greatly slow new development. “In June, for example, Toronto’s Preservation Board approved a plan for 225 buildings along subway-friendly Danforth Avenue to be added to the Heritage Register, effectively blocking them from being redeveloped.”

De-fanging community inputs and heritage designations was a key recommendation made in the province-appointed Housing Affordability Task Force report released in February, calling for the disallowing bulk designations and reactive heritage designations after a development application has been filed. It also called upon 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.

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