Reports of lower housing demand and tighter market conditions are no reason to take the proverbial foot off the hook when it comes to building new homes.
We are still in a housing supply crisis and desperately need new homes. This fact was recognized for the first time in many years by all levels of government and virtually all elected officials.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports that an additional 3.5 million homes need to be built by 2030 to be affordable. In Ontario, it is widely accepted that we will need 1.5 million new homes in Ontario over the next decade. This means that we will have to roughly double our housing production.
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To do this, however, all three levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal – will need to collaborate on solutions and make changes to speed up the dysfunctional planning approval processes that exist in municipalities, allow for more infill development , cut taxes and embrace digitalization. .
Current systems are too slow, bureaucratic and unresponsive and we must act now to change them.
RESCON has researched and released a 15-point plan, called Housing Ontario’s People Everywhere, or HOPE, which calls on all levels of government to tackle the crisis in housing supply and affordability by immediately adopting a series specific recommendations.
We recommend five actions for each level of government to take that will allow builders to get started sooner and house seekers to get to their homes much sooner. The actions are very specific, relevant and achievable in the short term.
The actions in the plan were developed by the RESCON team after extensive consultation with a variety of stakeholders. With the municipal elections fast approaching, we hope the candidates vying for the positions will speak out about some of the issues and commit to working to find a solution.
At the municipal level, in particular, several concerns must be taken into account. Municipal processes have been identified as the most important part of the problem, as they create bureaucratic obstacles and cause unsustainable and unacceptable delays. Clearly ineffective municipal planning systems and policies need to be overhauled to make them more effective and accountable.
RESCON’s plan calls for changes that will require planning and development divisions to expedite housing applications and approvals on time. The plan also includes reversing or reducing previous increases in taxes, fees and levies, such as development charges, digitizing the development approval process, allowing reasonable intensification, particularly in Toronto, and a ban on the use of heritage designations to stop development.
Heritage designations are currently being used by NIMBYists as a way to block much-needed densification and housing. In Toronto, city staff were asked to investigate the possibility of adding a former soy sauce factory on Queen Street in Leslieville to the heritage register. This could hurt the prospect of building an eight-story mixed-use building containing 132 purpose-built rental apartments. Some 2,000 properties in Leslieville and other Toronto neighborhoods have already received heritage designations over the past half-decade.
RESCON also proposes that land be freed up for reasonable development and intensification in large sections of municipalities and that there be responsive avenues to appeal unreasonable delays and decisions that impede residential construction. We also recommend that permits be updated for modern building techniques and that there is an increase in building approvals as of right.
In the meantime, we urge the provincial and federal governments to take further action. Although the province has made significant efforts to accelerate the construction of new homes through measures such as the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, much more needs to be done. We suggest the province mandate larger municipalities to have an independent planning and development ombudsman to ensure applications are not delayed.
At the federal level, we would like to see an exemption or rebate of the HST collected on the construction of residential buildings, more tax incentive programs, and an immigration system that allows more skilled foreign-trained workers to come in Ontario. This is something the provincial government has asked for.
Although all three levels of government have a role to play, municipalities are key to redressing the situation. Municipal processes have been identified as the most important part of the housing supply problem, as they create bureaucratic hurdles and cause unacceptable delays.
Research by RESCON and others has consistently shown that speeding up planning processes results in more housing units and greater investment.
Given the situation in which we find ourselves, it is time to slow down and accelerate the construction of new housing.
Richard Lyall is President of the Home Builders Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the construction industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected]