Work is now officially underway to create a new provincial data standard that will bring equity and efficiency to housing application and approval processes across Ontario.

The consultation stage has kicked off with municipalities and other stakeholders, confirmed Steve Clark, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, in collaboration with Associate Minister of Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed as part of the Ontario Data Authority Initiative.

Having a consistent data standard was a key takeaway from the Ontario Municipal Summit; on January 9th, the province met with big city mayors to discuss the housing crisis and coordinate efforts to improve supply. Its implementation will help improve the quality of data used by municipalities when planning and approving developments, create consistency across the province, and make it easier to measure results.

It’ll also support municipalities’ efforts to digitize their housing application and approvals processes, and will accompany the $45M Streamline Development Approval Fund, announced on the same day.

READ: Housing Affordability Task Force Proposal Goes After Zoning, NIMBYs, and Red Tape

“Premier Ford and I did hear this in January, and I also heard it as part of our Housing Affordability Task Force; the data standard is one additional tool to create more housing in Ontario,” Minister Clark told STOREYS.

“What we’ve heard throughout our consultation is that a lack of data at the municipal level makes the processes longer, it makes them more expensive, and it makes them more complex. Because of the housing supply crisis, we need to have provincial leadership. We need to say to our partners, whether they be Ontario’s 444 municipalities, or people that want to build homes, or the general public, that everybody’s running on the same set of principles.”  

Minister Rasheed says the focus of consultations is to identify key pain points and inconsistencies, which are contributing to an overly-complex and expensive system. In addition to municipalities, the province is also taking guidance from the private sector and additional stakeholders such as the Construction Council of Ontario, Association of Municipalities of Ontario, as well as MPAC. Timing around the delivery of the data standard is to follow.

“Throughout the consultation process, we have heard from the municipalities -- they are really excited -- and they want us to come out with some good programs,” he says. “I think this data development approval standard is something that is going to benefit all Ontarians; as Minister Clark said many times, we want to hit the ground running and have the shovels in the ground. This is something we don’t want to wait 10 years for; we want to make sure homes are built today.”

A main challenge, Minister Clark says, is that processes vary greatly across the provinces, as municipalities are at different stages in terms of digitization. 

“At the end of the day, what this digital standard will create is the fact that you’ll have equity in the system -- you’ll have a set of data points, a standard that is the same where I live in eastern Ontario, is the same in the GTA, or even up in northern Ontario. The data standard that is a collaboration between the two of us would create that level playing field of issues that everybody could utilize, which I think has been a huge gain for the province,” he says.

A recent proposal from the province-appointed Housing Affordability Task Force recommends 1.5M homes be built in the province over the next 10 years, along with drastic changes to how residential projects are applied for, zoned, and governed. This includes the establishment of province-wide zoning standards for residential development.

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