The Government of Ontario officially introduced the first phase of its new plan to push back against the province's rising home prices on Wednesday.

A bill tabled by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark aims to address lengthy city planning approvals that can slow down home construction -- something the Province says is driving up prices. The new legislation, if passed, will also address the roadblocks to building affordable housing, making it easier for developers to do so.

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“Ontario is the best place to live, start a business and raise a family, but we can only build on our success if all hardworking Ontarians and their families are able to find the home they need and want,” said Premier Doug Ford. “As Ontario’s population and our economy continue to grow, building more homes is another way that we’re keeping costs down for families across the province.”

Incentives to Speed Up The Application Process

Entitled the More Homes For Everyone Act, the bill proposes a number of changes to existing housing legislation, namely the Planning Act and City of Toronto Act, that would incentivize municipalities to make timelier decisions on development and rezoning applications. The incentives, the province says, would come in the form of lost application fees. If a municipality fails to make a decision on a development application within 60 days, they would be required to refund 50% of the fee. If no decision is reached within 90 days, 75% of the fee would be refunded. If the decision process surpasses 120 days, the entire fee would be refunded.

According to a 2020 BILD study, municipal planning approvals in the GTA currently take an average of nine to 24 months to issue. With this in mind, a similar fee refunding incentive would be put in place to speed up zoning applications. If no decision is made on rezoning applications within 90, 150, or 210 days then, then 50%, 75%, or 100% of the application fee, respectively, would be refunded.

The province is also committing to working with municipalities to speed up approvals for projects such as subdivisions, hospitals, community centers, and long-term care homes, while vowing to "increase transparency and accountability" through enhanced public reporting requirements.

Opening Up More Homes More Quickly

A number of changes to Ontario's Building Code are aimed at getting homes built and occupied faster. They would allow 12-storey mass timber buildings and streamline multi-unit building approvals. The province will also explore possible changes to allow for low-rise, multi-unit housing with a single means of egress, as well as safe ways to allow earlier partial occupancy for the lower floors of super-tall skyscrapers while they are still under construction.

The announcement comes several weeks after the province's Housing Affordability Task Force presented a 55-part proposal recommending, among other things, cutting down the level of public consultations municipalities allow for new developments.

"Municipalities allow far more public consultation than is required, often using formats that make it hard for working people and families with young children to take part," the report reads.

The task force, comprised of nine experts in not-for-profit housing, Indigenous housing, real estate, home building, financial markets, and economics, also recommended the construction of 1.5 million new homes over the next decade, accomplished by increasing density in both urban and rural areas, and cutting red tape in the development process. It also took aim at the misuse of the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), which has lead to backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

The new provincial plan outlines a more than $19M investment into the OLT and the Landlord and Tenant Board to increase staffing and technology resources, allowing the bodies to speed up decisions and reduce backlogs.

The government is also looking to ensure that an appropriate amount of new housing, including affordable housing, is built to meet the needs of Ontario's population. Increased data sharing of projected population counts with municipalities so that they can better meet community needs, combined with a focus on upcycling underutilized government-owned lands, is intended to address this.

To ensure municipalities are implementing the task force's recommendations, the province will establish the Housing Supply Working Group to "engage with municipal and federal governments, partner ministries, industry, and associations to monitor progress and support improvements."

Protecting Homebuyers

Changes to the Non-Resident Speculation Tax announced on Tuesday are also included as part of the plan. These changes would see the tax both increased to 20% and applied province-wide. The tax is effective on binding agreements to purchase and sales made on or after March 30.

To further protect consumers, the Province is looking to increase fines on unethical behaviour from developers and builders, and vows to hold home builders and vendors to professional standards.

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