Ontario passes housing bill despite criticism from municipalities over funding
The Ontario government has passed housing legislation that overrides some municipal zoning laws and eliminates some development fees in an effort to follow through on the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes.
The legislation—also known as Bill 23 or the “More Homes Built Faster Act”—was first proposed by the Ford government about a month ago and has since been criticized for leaving municipalities short billions of dollars.
In addition to setting housing goals for 29 large cities in Ontario, the Progressive Conservatives proposed numerous legislative changes, including allowing up to three units, as well as duplexes and triplexes, on a single residential lot without bylaw amendments or municipal permissions.
These units, as well as affordable housing, non-profit housing and “inclusionary zoning units, will be exempt from additional fees such as development charges, parkland dedication levies and community benefit charges.
Development charges, which are collected by cities to help pay for the cost of municipal services or impacted infrastructure such as roads and transit, will also be reduced up to 25 per cent for family-sized rental units.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has previously said these changes could leave communities short about $5 billion. This could lead to higher property taxes or service cuts.
In Toronto alone, the loss of development charges could result in a revenue loss of about $230 million, according to a staff report presented to city council.
“This would negatively impact the city’s ability to provide the services necessary to support growth over the long term,” the report states.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has already warned the province of an $815-million hole in the city’s budget brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and says that further revenue losses could be “devastating.”
“This would cause the postponement, and otherwise just not proceeding with many, many capital projects in the city,” Tory said earlier this month.
“And the part of it that is so frustrating for me is that those capital projects relate to expanding the sewer pipe to accommodate those buildings, or the transit that is going to be needed to serve those buildings or the daycare that is going to be needed to look after kids who move into those buildings.”
Speaking after the bill passed, Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark said the province is entitled to about $1.5 billion from the federal government and he hopes to work with the province to get shovels in the ground faster.
“We have a big problem. It’s a crisis and we need all three levels of government doing their part,” he said.
“I happen to think that having an incentive to build more non-profit housing, more affordable housing, more inclusionary zoning, I think having a deep discount for family-sized rentals, is good public policy.”
Ontario interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said he was surprised to see a conservative government giving “a standing ovation for raising people’s taxes.”
“They are going to raise people’s property taxes. The minister knows that. He’s not willing to admit it,” he said. “They are giving developers a free pass on development charges with no guarantee that it’s going to reduce the cost of the home and they haven’t said anything about how they are actually going to build sewers and roads and community centres and add a fire station.”
The bill also temporarily freezes conservation authority fees while reducing the agency’s power. Conservation authorities will no longer need to consider factors such as pollution or land conservation when approving permit requirements.
Environmental groups have voiced concerns about limiting conservation authorities’ ability to block development for environmental reasons, especially as the government looks to open up some protected land for development.
The province is currently undergoing a 30-day consultation process to remove about 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt in order to accommodate the building of more homes. The government has also said it will add an additional 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt—although it is unclear where this will be.
The government says that construction on land removed from the Greenbelt would be expected to begin no later than 2025.
“If these conditions are not met, the government will return these properties to the Greenbelt,” officials said in a news release.
Opposition parties are accusing the PCs of not consulting Indigenous leaders, while also jeopardizing environmentally sensitive land.
In a statement, NDP Housing Critic Jessica Bell said the passage of Bill 23 benefits wealthy developers rather than build affordable housing.
“Instead of adopting the NDP’s housing solutions to fix this, Doug Ford has concocted a scheme that will line the pockets of his developer buddies waiting to carve up the Greenbelt,” Bell said.
“Ford’s legislation jeopardizes environmentally sensitive land; it puts renters at greater risk of being evicted or having their rent jacked up; and it will see purpose-built affordable rental buildings torn down and replaced with luxury condos the average person cannot afford.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the PCs were ignoring important voices in an attempt to push this bill through the Legislature.
“Bill 23 makes way for land speculators to privately profit from the public value of protected land,” he said in a statement.
“What seems clear is the government’s decision to rush Bill 23 through Committee and avoid as much backlash as possible was because this bill was drafted for land speculators to cash in, while people pay the price.”
The 30-day consultation process to develop parts of the Greenbelt concludes on Dec. 4.
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