The 55-part proposal unveiled yesterday by the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force has mostly been lauded by building industry insiders, with many crediting its ambition — but whether or not the recommendations materialize remains to be seen.
To realize its lofty goal of building 1.5M new homes in the province over the next decade, the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force recommends overhauling residential zoning; amending infill regulations in the yellow belt to allow up to four units and as many storeys rather than only permitting single- and semi-detached housing; defanging NIMBYs who frequently object to affordable housing development in their neighbourhoods; and more.
Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s former Chief City Planner and Founder of Markee Developments, says the series of recommendations could profoundly impact both the planning process and land use in Ontario, the latter of which has a lot of gaps.
“The emphasis on adding housing supply to build up existing areas is critical,” Keesmaat told STOREYS. “This is something I’ve been advocating for many years; we have areas across our cities and in our province where we have existing schools, existing transit, existing water, and yet we’re underbuilding in those areas, so the emphasis on up-zoning and allowing intensification in these areas, and then accelerating that particularly around major transit stations, is absolutely the right direction we need to be going in.”
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Municipalities often whinge about getting the short-shrift from the federal and provincial governments, but Keesmaat noted that, according to the Planning Act, they’re actually capable of doing much more themselves.
One of the biggest hurdles to affordable housing is what Keesmaat calls abuse of the appeals process, which extends development timelines and wreaks havoc on pro formas.
“We see the cost of housing go up in the appeals process and affordable housing eliminated because local NIMBYs don’t want to see affordable housing in their neighbourhoods,” Keesmaat said. “Taking away some of the onerous parts of the process that are limiting affordable housing supply and are adding costs to the delivery of housing, that’s actually really good for the province and it’s good for delivering more and better housing supply. What I like about this report is these are recommendations this government can implement if they so choose to do, and I think they have given some pretty strong signals already that their intention is to do so.”
More Could be Done
However, not everybody thinks the recommendations are far-reaching enough. Scott McLellan, Senior Vice President of Plaza Corp, says developers are still taxed to the hilt in the form of rising development charges, parkland contributions, Section 37, and a host of other levies that are ultimately passed onto the consumer when developments go to market. In fact, upward of 25% of the cost of housing in the GTA is comprised of taxes and levies.
“There are still no breaks on levies; that’s still a problem. It’s funny how government and City of Toronto councillors are complaining about affordability but they’re the guys who create it,” McLellan said. “City councillors here in Toronto have more impact on escalating prices than anything else does between their DC charges, parkland contributions and their time to get something approved.”
Further to that point, McLellan says, developers often get into unnecessary squabbles with the city over additional density on subway lines that, more often than not, they get anyway. The biggest problem, though, is how long it takes to go through rezoning and receive site plan approvals.
“Taking three years to get a development approval is ridiculous,” he said. “The hoops you have to jump through in the three years is crazy. Meeting after meeting — meet with this group, then that group; sit down with the design review panel they’ve put together. It’s amazing the whole level of blockage to get the project approved, and then we end up getting it anyway. It’s usually what developers put in on day one but these guys take three years during which time construction costs have gone up. It could be up to $100 per square foot more. Way to go, Toronto, good job.”
Real Estate Associations Support Recommendations
Major real estate organizations like the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) welcome the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force recommendations, with the organization’s president stating that cutting through red tape will abet development of affordable housing.
“The recommendation to reduce red tape on new development by implementing planning and permitting process improvements will help get more affordable housing supply into the market. Legislating timelines at each stage of the planning review process will eliminate unnecessary delays and costs for new home construction, which are passed on to buyers,” David Oikle said.
Additionally, intensification, as previously mandated in the Places to Grow Act of 2005, will help develop more livable communities, he added.
“Finally, intensifying density along major transit routes is good for the environment and families looking for an affordable place to live. By building more homes and creating transit-oriented communities, we can help hardworking Ontarians own a home and save precious commodities — time and money — improving their quality of life,” the OREA president said.
McLellan says the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force is a good thing because it parrots many of the things the development community has been saying for years, which ultimately come down to removing impediments to timely development. As housing supply hopefully surges, rapid price appreciation will become neutralized.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I’m glad the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force sees things the way most of us do. All those things in there will make it much easier. Let developers build more, let them have density, and that will bring down the price for product because it’s a supply and demand issue.”
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