TORONTO — Ontario needs to quickly and aggressively build more homes to address the province’s housing crisis, by increasing density, and limiting consultations and appeals, expert advisers said Tuesday.

A housing affordability task force convened last year by the provincial government released a report with 55 recommendations aimed at allowing more people in Ontario to find and afford a home — including a goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

House prices in Ontario have nearly tripled in the last 10 years, far outpacing income growth, the report said, but the province is 1.2 million homes — both rental and owned — short of the G7 average. Businesses and public services are having trouble recruiting and retaining workers because of a scarcity of nearby housing, which is harming the economy, while long commutes are contributing to air pollution, the report said.

For too long the province has focused on ways to “cool” the market, but that will not fill the housing need, the report said.

“More supply is key,” the task force members wrote in their report. 

“Building more homes will reduce the competition for our scarce supply of homes and will give Ontarians more housing choices. It will improve housing affordability across the board.” 

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said he’s confident he can enact some of the solutions through legislation or regulation or both before the spring election.

“It’s a very complex problem. There’s not a silver bullet,” he said in an interview. 

“We’re going to have to do a variety of measures, small and then some bold as well, to get us closer to that number (of 1.5 million). So I’m quite pleased with the feedback we’ve received. And now I’m focused…How are we going to get this implemented? How are we going to build these homes faster?”

When the task force was proposed in November, critics dismissed the move as meaningless, saying advocates and experts have long proposed solutions to the housing crisis. The task force’s report Tuesday said it was able to work under such a tight timeline “because, in almost all cases, viewpoints and feasible solutions are well known.”

Clark said it was an important opportunity for the government to get “forward-thinking ideas and some bold recommendations on the table.”

“Some groups might argue that an individual recommendation’s been in the public realm for a while, but given the magnitude of the fact that demand has outpaced supply so much, we felt that we needed to have a task force not that sat and met for years and years and years, but went in, looked at the problem, and gave us a recommendation very quickly.” 

Many of the recommendations suggest ways to limit how development can be stifled by NIMBYism (not in my backyard) — the objection to development in one’s neighbourhood — which the task force describes as a “major obstacle” to building more homes, and disproportionately impacts young people of colour and marginalized people.

“Neighbourhood pushback drags out the approval process, pushes up costs and discourages investment in housing. It also keeps out new residents,” the task force said.

The report recommends eliminating municipal policies that prioritize preserving “neighbourhood character” — which can prevent building even simple suites on existing homes where the rules otherwise allow it — as well as exempting projects of 10 units or fewer from public consultation when they only need minor variances, and limiting municipalities from hosting consultations beyond what is required in the Planning Act.

Pressure to designate buildings as “heritage” also stands in the way of development, the report said. Some municipalities list thousands of properties at a time as having “potential” heritage value, and neighbours often demand a building get a heritage designation as soon as a development is proposed, the task force said. 

Reactive heritage designations — made after a development application has been filed — should be banned, as should bulk heritage listings, the report recommended.

The task force also recommends changes to the Ontario Land Tribunal, where it said a single person appealing a development can tie up new housing for years by paying a $400 fee.

Potential appellants should have to ask permission — or seek leave — to appeal, the report recommends, and the right of appeal should be removed for projects with at least 30 per cent affordable housing. As well, third-party appeals should require a $10,000 fee, it said.

The tribunal also needs more funding to increase staffing and clear a backlog of 1,300 cases, while also relying more on oral decisions with written reasons to follow, the task force recommended.

Municipal zoning rules also need to be changed to allow more homes to be built, the report said. It’s estimated that 70 per cent of the residential land in Toronto is restricted to single-detached or semi-detached homes.

“As one person said, ‘My neighbour can tear down what was there to build a monster home, but I’m not allowed to add a basement suite to my home,'” the task force said.

The province allowed secondary suites starting in 2019, but municipalities are still restricting their use — the total number of secondary suites has actually declined for the past three years, the report said.

Municipal approval steps should be removed for residential housing of up to four units on a single lot, secondary suites, garden suites and laneway suites, multi-tenant housing, and converting underutilized commercial properties to residential, it recommended.

As well, if in two years provincial density targets aren’t being met, zoning for unlimited height and density immediately around transit stations should be allowed, the task force said.

The task force was chaired by Jake Lawrence, CEO and group head of global banking and markets at Scotiabank. Members also included developers, real estate executives and the CEO of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press



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