The home building industry has plenty to contend with these days. A shortage of planners only adds to the mix.

Planners are critical to the development approvals process. They review the specifics of applications for housing, the design of buildings as well as changes to existing ones, and plan for future growth.

Disturbingly, though, there is a significant deficit of planners across Ontario municipalities, which does not bode well for developers and the residential construction industry. We are learning that the planning workforce is being depleted and the supply of new talent is not keeping up with demand.

The Canadian Institute of Planners has seen a steady rise in the number of job openings for planners. Job postings spiked by an astonishing 78% from 2020 to 2021, and by an additional 53% from 2021 to 2022.

Ontario universities graduated 439 planners in 2022. Of those, 185 had Bachelors degrees, 246 had Masters degrees, and eight had PhDs. But the number still felt short of requirements.

Data from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) indicates that in April there were 150 job openings for planners in the Toronto area. Each year, 750 positions are posted on the job board.

Meanwhile, a report by Toronto's planning department in 2020 indicated the City had about 60 unfilled positions in a 477-person department. About 25% of the department’s staff came on board in 2020.

The need is real. So is the urgency to address the shortage as building new housing is a priority. We are in a crisis and dramatically short of condos and homes to accommodate our growing population. Without enough planners, the approvals process will slow, making it more difficult to move forward with residential construction projects.

The OPPI convened an expert committee to come up with recommendations on how to improve the planning system in Ontario and get more homes built faster.

As executive director Susan Wiggins has noted, the shortage of planners is an issue across Ontario but it’s impacting municipalities the most. More planners, she says, are needed to meet the growing demand by municipalities to update planning policies, review development applications for more housing, and more.

The OPPI is recommending that the province convene a stakeholder table to develop a concrete action plan to increase the supply of professional planners.

This seems like an appropriate course of action.

Municipal approval timelines in the GTA are among the worst of major municipalities across Canada. Average timelines are now up to 51% longer than in 2020. Approval timelines for developments range from 10 to 34 months. In Toronto, it takes 32 months, on average, to get an application approved. Average approval timelines in the GTA are higher than any other part of Canada.

Developers can’t afford to sit on housing projects. Each month of delay costs between $2.60 and $3.30 per sq. ft in additional construction costs, according to a 2022 study done by Altus Group.

Six months of delays would add between $12,480 and $15,840 to the price of an 800-sq.-ft condo in Toronto – a cost that is passed on to new home buyers.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark has asked Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton and Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop to look into the issue and possibly tap the OPPI for solutions.

One solution being floated is to try to bring in planners who’ve been trained outside Ontario. Another is to expand university training programs in the province.

However, municipalities and companies must also create more new positions for planning students and new graduates. The CIP and Association of Canadian University Planning Programs jointly note that, as a result of the pandemic, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of summer jobs, internships and entry-level positions for new graduates of accredited planning programs.

But if we are to properly prepare the next generation of planners, they must have access to training and learning opportunities.

With the province hoping to build 1.5 million homes by 2031, time is of the essence. The only way to reach the home building target is to speed up the development approvals process and build quickly. Ensuring there are enough planners in the system is essential to moving the needle on housing.