Higher density, less public consultations needed to fix housing: Ontario Task Force

Feb 8 2022, 3:07 pm

The Ontario Housing Task Force released its first report on Tuesday, outlining a series of recommendations to address the housing crisis the province faces.

The task force, assembled in December by the Ontario government, is comprised of nine experts in not-for-profit housing, Indigenous housing, real estate, home building, financial markets, and economics. They were tasked with providing recommendations on measures to address ongoing housing market supply and affordability issues.

The new report outlines 55 such recommendations, including the construction of 1.5 million new homes in the next decade. This would be accomplished by increasing density in both urban and rural areas and significant cuts to red tape in the development process.

“The way housing is approved and built was designed for a different era when the province was less constrained by space and had fewer people,” wrote Chair of the Housing Affordability Task Force Chair and Chief Executive Officer and Group Head, Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank Jake Lawrence in the report. “But it no longer meets the needs of Ontarians. The balance has swung too far in favour of lengthy consultations, bureaucratic red tape, and costly appeals. It is too easy to oppose new housing and too costly to build. We are in a housing crisis and that demands immediate and sweeping reforms.”

The 33-page report says that land is not being used efficiently across Ontario, with municipal zoning regulations preventing the creation of density higher than that of a single-family home in many areas. It also recommends that Ontario create housing more quickly by allowing an increased number of homes to be built in more locations without municipal approval.

“Municipalities require numerous studies and set all kinds of rules for adding housing, many of which go well beyond the requirements of the provincial Planning Act,” the report reads. “While some of this guidance has value for urban design, some rules appear to be arbitrary and not supported by evidence – for example, requiring condo buildings to include costly parking stalls even though many go unsold. These rules and requirements result in delays and extra costs that make housing either impossible to build or very expensive for the eventual home buyer or renter.”

It also takes aim at the level of public consultation municipalities allow when it comes to new developments and recommends limiting consultations to a legislated maximum.

“Because local councillors depend on the votes of residents who want to keep the status quo, the planning process has become politicized,” the report says. “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 Housing Task Force also addresses issues of misuse of the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) that have led to a backlog of more than 1,0000 cases. It states that after a project is appealed at the municipal level, some opponents to development will appeal the decision to the OLT, knowing that it may delay the project “to the point where it might no longer make economic sense.”

“Recommendations 26 through 31 seek to weed out or prevent appeals aimed purely at delaying projects, allow adjudicators to award costs to proponents in more cases, including instances where a municipality has refused an approval to avoid missing a legislated deadline, reduce the time to issue decisions, increase funding, and encourage the Tribunal to prioritize cases that would increase housing supply quickly as it tackles the backlog,” the report reads.

The report is largely development-focused and does not address issues such as the current increased demand for buying that is in-part responsible for pushing prices to increasingly unaffordable highs or debated sales practices like blind bidding.

In the report, Lawrence notes that the recommendations are not an “all or nothing” proposal but instead are “a list of options that the government has at its disposal to help address housing affordability for Ontarians and get more homes built.”

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Laura HanrahanLaura Hanrahan

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