Ontario introduces bill aimed at boosting housing supply as property prices continue to rise

Homes under construction in Toronto on June 26, 2015.GRAEME ROY/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Secretary of Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, is introducing a series of changes designed to accelerate the municipal planning process to increase the supply of housing in the province as real estate prices continue to rise to dizzying heights and the spring elections loom.

Mr. Clark on Wednesday introduced a bill to the legislature designed to respond to the county’s recent Housing Affordability Task Force, a panel of industry experts that called for sweeping changes to the planning process to build more homes faster as the real estate market in the province continues to skyrocket.

Among the proposals outlined by ministry staff in a technical briefing Wednesday are provisions to ensure that municipal staff, not elected councils, oversee the detailed “site plan control” process for development projects, which involves landscaping, walkways or parking areas are arranged. Municipalities will also be forced to refund developer fees if they miss approval deadlines. New rules, yet to be drafted, would also limit their authority in approving subdivision plans. The changes are all aimed at reducing wait times for municipal approvals to build homes that range from nine months to two years, according to the industry.

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However, Mr. Clark has refrained from immediately implementing one of the task force’s most radical suggestions: a call to ban municipalities from using zoning plans to reserve large swaths of the county’s towns for single-family homes only. The proposed legislation followed consultations with municipalities and comes as the government prepares to conduct an election campaign in the spring, and a move to ban single-family homes is expected to attract opposition from municipalities and homeowners.

In slides handed out to reporters ahead of Wednesday’s technical briefing, the government says the task force’s report is its “long-term housing roadmap” and is “committed to adopting the task force’s recommendations for four years each year.” year with a housing action plan, starting in 2022-23, with policies and tools that support multi-generational and missing middle-class housing.”

The bill introduced on Wednesday also includes a new process for municipalities to seek state government approval to accelerate community infrastructure or housing projects — a process designed to replace the government’s current controversial practice of issuing so-called ministerial zoning plans. skilled, or MZOs.

The government says this new “community infrastructure and housing accelerator” can be used to accelerate things like hospitals and community centers, “while increasing transparency and accountability.” This provision will not be usable in the county’s protected greenbelt, where Mr Clark has also committed not to use MZOs.

Critics have taken advantage of the government’s widespread use of MZOs to approve projects – including those that violate environmental regulations – and protect them from appeals to county courts. These approvals have often been granted to major developers who are also PC Party backers, and in some cases the government has had to withdraw them after local outcry.

The government says that before the new process, municipalities must consult the public about these projects, make the request and the resulting order public. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing will also be able to set conditions for the project.

The bill would also change the county’s building code to allow for 12-story wooden buildings, something proponents say is a more environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and steel.

Only Tuesday, the government announced another move aimed at cooling the red-hot housing market, saying it would extend a speculation tax on foreign property buyers in much of central Southern Ontario to the entire province. , and this would increase to 20 percent from 15 percent. Under the previous rules, only the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area, which includes Toronto and other densely populated regions of Southern Ontario, was covered. The move brings Ontario’s policy closer to British Columbia’s, which has had a higher foreign buyer tax for years.

Since the 2018 election, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has brought more housing to a regular pace and has made a series of major changes to the province’s planning regime. Mr. Clark points to recent housing projects, the highest in decades, and increasing numbers of rental properties as proof that his strategy is working.

But opposition critics and environmentalists have said too many of the policy changes, including easing density requirements and requiring municipalities to allocate more farmland for development, have favored companies seeking sprawl with a low density outside of Toronto.

In February, the government’s task force on housing affordability, chaired by Jake Lawrence, the CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia and group head of global banking and markets, made a series of sweeping recommendations for changes to the planning process and said the province committed to building 1.5 million new homes in the next 10 years.

The report said the government should declare that up to four units, with up to four floors, will be allowed “as of good” – automatically without repurposing – removing local rules now requiring only single-family homes. It also called for the legalization of room housing and the end of parking requirements for developments in municipalities of 50,000 people or more.

At the time, Mr. Clark said he hoped to have a “bold plan” for the legislature before the spring election. He said he was considering all of the committee’s ideas, including ending single-family homes.

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