Provincial task force report on housing crisis favours easing obstacles to development

WATERLOO REGION — The province’s housing affordability task force recommends sweeping changes that would allow developers to fast-track some housing projects, pay fewer fees and at times forgo public consultation and other planning processes.

The panel was convened by the minister of municipal affairs and housing in December to suggest ways to deal with the housing shortage crisis. The task force report was released in January.

What happens next is up to the province.

Among other criticisms, the report said municipalities conduct too much public consultation for political reasons.

It largely calls on the province to set standards and practices municipalities would have to follow, taking away some local decision-making powers and discretion.

“It’s written from a big business perspective and that is one perspective on how to build houses however there are other perspectives — planning perspectives, proper consultation perspectives, local citizen perspectives,” Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said. “And when we’re planning things out for 30, 40, 50 years … it’s good to give thoughtful consultation.”

Under the Planning Act municipalities are required to hold one formal public meeting at which a vote is taken to approve or not approve a project.

Waterloo conducts an informal meeting first to introduce big projects to residents.

The report says those practices should be scrapped.

“Because local councillors depend on the votes of residents who want to keep the status quo, the planning process has become politicized. 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 report reads.

Jaworsky said the city supports keeping its consultation practices.

Municipalities are dealing with record-high home costs due to supply shortages.

Ten years ago the average home price in Ontario was $329,000. At the end of 2021 that cost hit $923,000, according to the report.

That’s an increase of 180 per cent. During the same period the average income increased 38 per cent.

According to a Scotiabank study completed in 2021 and updated in January two-thirds of Canada’s housing shortage is in Ontario.

The report said Ontario needs 1.5 million new homes over the next decade to deal with the shortage.

For the purpose of this report the definition of home included detached, semi-detached or attached homes, apartments, suites, condominiums and mobile homes.

The task force was not asked to consider subsidized housing as part of its report.

It also recommends that development charges be waived for certain projects.

Development charges are fees developers pay for items related to growth like roads and sewers.

“If those costs aren’t paid for by the developer then they’re borne by the existing citizens through property taxes … and that is not acceptable,” Jaworsky said. “Growth should pay for growth.”

Regional Chair Karen Redman said the province also needs to be looking at hospitals, schools and highways to support any new growth.

“We can’t just build houses and not have services available that everybody expects to be there and they need to be funded by the province,” Redman said.

She added, “I think that you can’t impose things on the community. I think that there still has to be due process, I still believe in managed growth.”

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the report could have benefitted from municipal input.

“I think what concerns me is there are some (ideas) that maybe would have benefitted from a municipal lens to perhaps help the task force better understand some of the processes and realities in terms of what cities deal with,” he said.

He said any process that seeks to limit community engagement would be an issue. And while the goal of building 1.5 million new homes during the next decade is admirable, Vrbanovic said supply chain and labour shortages might make that difficult.

The report also makes specific recommendations around heritage that include:

  • Repealing or overriding municipal policies, zoning, or plans that prioritize the preservation of physical character of a neighbourhood
  • Prevent abuse of the heritage preservation and designation process by:
  • Prohibiting the use of bulk listing on municipal heritage registers
  • Prohibiting reactive heritage designations after a Planning Act development application has been filed
  • Requiring municipalities to compensate property owners for loss of property value as a result of heritage designations, based on the principle of best economic use of land.

Earlier this month the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario issued a release in response to the report.

“The housing affordability task force overreached its mandate when it waded into discussions of heritage,” said Diane Chin, ACO Chair. “The task force had neither representation or (sic) input from anyone with heritage experience.”

Jean Haalboom is a former regional councillor and now sits on the ACO board, though she spoke on her own behalf.

She said the report should have recommended ways to incentivize reuse of heritage and older buildings, rather than present them as something standing in the way of development.

It’s Haalboom’s opinion that the heritage recommendations are borne from the “sour grapes” of a handful of developers.

“They want to do the quick fix, get in there, bulldoze, down it comes and likely they do not have an understanding of the heritage, of the value and the place of this heritage structure in the community and its value to the community,” she said.

Haalboom pointed to projects like Alexandra School and St. Louis School in Waterloo as local success stories.

They were approved to be converted to new residential uses.

Recommendations include:

  • Create more permissive land use, planning and approval systems including exemptions from site plan and public consultation process for projects of 10 units or less
  • Allow projects with up to four units and secondary and garden suites to bypass regulated zoning processes
  • Allow developers to appeal municipal official plans — large planning documents that guide how communities will grow
  • Allow wood construction of up to 12 storeys. Six is currently the maximum permitted under the Ontario Building Code
  • Remove right of appeal at the Ontario Land Tribunal for projects with at least 30 per cent affordable housing in which units are guaranteed affordable for at least 40 years
  • Require a $10,000 filing fee for third-party appeals to the tribunal. The current fee is $400
  • Waive development charges and parkland cash-in-lieu and charge only modest connection fees for all infill residential projects up to 10 units or development where no new infrastructure will be required
  • Waive development charges on all forms of affordable housing guaranteed to be affordable for 40 years.
  • Call on the federal government to implement an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy
  • Funding for pilot projects that create innovative pathways to home ownership, for Black, Indigenous, and marginalized people and first-generation homeowners.

Task force members:

  • Lalit Aggarwal is President of Manor Park Holdings, a real estate development and operating company active in Eastern Ontario
  • Tim Hudak is the CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association
  • David Amborski is a professional urban planner, professor at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning and the founding Director of the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development
  • Andrew Garrett is a real estate executive responsible for growing IMCO’s $11-plus billion global real estate portfolio
  • Jake Lawrence was appointed Chief Executive Officer and Group Head, Global Banking and Markets in January 2021
  • Julie Di Lorenzo is self-employed since 1982, operates one of the largest female-run real estate development companies in North America
  • Ene Underwood is CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Toronto Area, a non-profit housing developer
  • Dave Wilkes is the president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association of the GTA

  • Justin Marchand is Métis and was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services in 2018

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