By Mike Anderson

On October 4, Town Council voted 5-2 to accept a provincial housing target and housing pledge that would see 6,200 new homes built in Georgina over the next eight years.

The housing target was assigned by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) and will count towards the province’s goal of 1.5 million new homes by 2031.

As part of the process, Mayor Quirk, the head of council, must also submit a housing pledge to MMAH by mid-December to outline the strategies the Town will adopt to ensure it meets its housing target.

The province is extending several “carrots” to encourage 21 smaller municipalities, like Georgina, to achieve those targets.

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It is granting so-called “strong mayor powers” under Bill 3, allowing Mayors to pass housing-related bylaws with just one-third of council support, hire and fire senior staff, and override council approval of specific bylaws. It also enables Mayors to prepare the budget instead of council.

The province is also providing funding through its new $1.2 billion infrastructure fund, the “Build Faster Fund.” But there’s a catch: municipalities must meet annual housing targets to access the fund.

For instance, if the Town makes significant progress toward its target of 6,200 new homes, it could receive as much as $1.6 million annually.

But achieving that target will be no easy task.

According to a staff report prepared and presented by Denis Beaulieu, director of Development Services, the Town will need to ramp up its approval and permitting process.

While 775 new homes will have to be built annually to meet the 6,200 target, the highest number of building permits the Town issued for new home construction was 503 in 2021.

And, as of mid-September 2023, the Town has issued building permits for only 319 new homes, which includes 31 accessory apartments.

There is also a shortage of municipal (sewage and water) servicing allocation for new homes.

While there are 4,693 units in the Town’s development pipeline, more than 1,200 units waiting for approvals do not have municipal servicing allocation.

According to Beaulieu’s report, expansions to both the Keswick and Sutton sewage treatment plants will be required in “the short term” to provide the necessary servicing for development applications to proceed to final approval or construction.

“It’s a significant endeavour to try and achieve and one we cannot do alone,” Beaulieu told council.

“Achieving the Housing Target itself will require additional stable funding from all levels of government, collaboration and alignment between all stakeholders, and a commitment to the timely delivery of approved housing by the development industry,” the report added.

While council voted to accept the province’s housing target, it made it clear there would be some strings attached.

It wants the province to provide additional funding for growth-related infrastructure, like water and sewer mains.

And it wants the province to accelerate and increase funding to the Region to ensure Georgina’s water treatment plant and the Keswick and Sutton sewage treatment plants are upgraded so there’s enough capacity to service additional growth.

It is also requesting that the province provide $2 million in matching funding to pay for the upfront costs associated with streamlining approvals and building permits the Town will absorb to achieve its housing target — that ask could jump to $4 million if the Town cannot obtain a $2 million grant from the Federal Housing Accelerator Fund.

Council is also calling on the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) to pressure builders who have approved development projects and service allocation in Georgina to “proceed expeditiously with the construction of new homes.”

And it requested the province provide the Town the authority to require inclusionary zoning,  which would allow a certain percentage of affordable housing units to be built in new residential developments. 

Finally, it is asking not to extend “strong mayor powers” to the Town of Georgina.

On this point, Mayor Quirk stressed that she would not use them even if they were granted.

“I just want to say that I don’t intend to use the strong mayor powers to veto council’s decisions. Council’s decisions are council’s decisions,” she said.

“I will continue to work with council, as I always have from day one, to build consensus. We can accept the target and the pledge, but we don’t support the need for strong mayor powers.”

Regional Councillor Naomi Davison and Ward 4 Councillor Dale Genge voted against accepting the housing target and pledge, principally because of the “strong mayor powers” may still be in play, despite council inserting wording requesting the province not assign them.

“If us signing this pledge means that strong mayor powers have to be accepted, I can’t support signing that pledge at this time,” Davison said.

Genge also opposed “strong mayor powers,” but added she didn’t believe the housing target was achievable.

“I’m still somewhat skeptical that we can actually get there,” she said. “And that’s relevant because if we don’t get there, we don’t get any of that money.”

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