The Province’s ”Build More Homes, Faster” proposal, known as Bill 23, was introduced with the objective of spurring the construction of 1.5 million new residential units in Ontario over the next decade.
It states that Bill 23 will help to address current housing shortages – which are expected to become more severe as the level of immigrants allowed into the country is raised to 500,000 annually – and promote the building of “the right mix “ of housing types to include more affordable homes and rental units.
The Province believes that streamlining the Planning review and approval processes will expedite housing development and reduce costs.
The Bill has been the focus of much debate and concern. There remain many unanswered questions about Bill 23 – the detailed regulations behind it have not yet been released – but the issues raised regarding its anticipated impacts include:
- reductions to funding and role for local conservation authorities
- apparent lack of protection for valuable agricultural lands
- cuts to Development Charges for Attainable and Rental housing, paid by developers, potentially posing infrastructure funding challenges for the Town of Blue Mountains
- lack of tools for municipalities to mandate increases to the supply of attainable / rental housing
Given its importance, and the community’s level of interest regarding Bill 23, the BMRA reached out to our riding’s MPP, Brian Saunderson, to request that he meet with a variety of community stakeholders. We were looking to Brian to explain the government’s position, and receive input and questions from the group.
Brian agreed to do so, and the meeting was held from 3-5 pm on Friday February 17 at the Marsh Street Centre. The participating community representatives covered a variety of interest groups, including:
- Bruce Harbinson – Niagara Escarpment Alliance
- Chris Mifflin – Blue Mountains Watershed Trust
- Sally Leppard – Climate Action Now Network
- Larry Hogarth – Institute of Southern Georgian Bay
- John Ardiel, Brian Gilroy – TBM Agricultural Sector
- Andrew Seigwart – Blue Mountain Village Association
- Jennifer Bisley – Executive Director, BM Attainable Housing Corporation
- Jim Torrance – BMRA President
- John White, John Relihan – BMRA Board Members
- Scott Findlay – BMRA, Infrastructure
- Janet Findlay, Pamela Spence – BMRA Planning Subcommittee
- Gavin Leitch – TBM Chamber of Commerce
AREAS OF DISCUSSION
Two primary issues were raised:
- Reducing the resources allocated to Conservation Authorities will make it more difficult to ensure necessary environmental reviews are conducted, thereby raising the prospect that increased levels of residential construction could cause harm to the environment, and vulnerable areas, especially floodplains, could become development targets.
- Changes to the classification of wetlands, that will reduce the number of areas designated as provincially significant wetlands, will present challenges to protecting those vital natural resources.
Brian acknowledged the Authorities will experience funding cuts, which could pose a challenge for smaller municipalities which do not have those capabilities on staff, and this will need to be considered. He stated that the Bill’s intention is to streamline the role of Conservation Authorities, more in line with their originally established purpose.
The question of pulling land out of the greenbelt was also covered. Brian stated that the matter is before the Ethics Commissioner, so he did not comment on the legal questions that have been raised regarding potential developer influence in the process. He did say that while 7200 acres is being removed from the greenbelt, which will allow for the construction of 50,000 homes, there are 9400 acres being added back in.
Brian also informed the group that since 2005, Provincial governments have taken land out of the greenbelt sixteen times, so it is not unprecedented. He did note that expanding urbanization will necessitate the protection of other areas.
It does not appear that Bill 23 contains sufficient protection for Ontario’s valuable farmland. It was referenced that 1 in 10 jobs in Ontario are connected to the agriculture sector, and that the Ontario government is committed to its support.
Brian will follow up on the question of Bill 23’s potential impact on Ontario agriculture.
It was suggested that the Province should do more to promote population growth outside of the GTA and to better preserve prime agricultural land, more residential development in Central, Eastern and Northern Ontario should be supported.
Brian stated that assisting economic growth and population gains in northern communities is a priority for the government.
3) Attainable Housing
Ensuring the right mix of housing means that more attainable and rental units are required, to rebalance the housing stock which, particularly in TBM, has skewed far too much towards single family, detached homes.
Brian stated that 90% of the residences in the Southern Georgian Bay area fall into that category.
Bill 23 has a couple of aspects that are intended to promote development of attainable and rental housing, including proposed “inclusionary zoning” that requires 5% of new developments be attainable and/or rental. It is not clear at this time whether this policy will be applied outside of urban communities with major transit systems.
But if the standard is set at 5% for new developments in a community such as TBM, achieving a meaningful supply of attainable units would take a very long time.
The BMRA suggested that for municipalities which do not already have the 5% targeted level, the mandated level of attainable units in new developments should be materially higher than 5% until the objective is achieved.
Development Charges are to be waived for affordable units, and reduced by 25% for rental units.
Brian agreed that Short Term Accommodations (STAs) don’t help address the housing crisis, and conversions of existing properties to STAs only worsen the problem. Bill 23 should acknowledge that fact, and the waiving of development charges on rental units should not be applied to purpose-built Short Term Accommodation dwellings.
It was stated that the Town’s Official Plan can play an important role in driving attainable housing. However, it is our understanding that municipalities currently lack the tools to mandate the building of housing needed in our community. It seems that there must be closer, more effective coordination between the Province and Municipalities to create workable solutions to the problem.
The potential to create more efficient regional governance models between upper and lower tier municipalities – such as Grey County and TBM – as in Prince Edward County was discussed. This approach is consistent with what the BMRA encouraged in our presentation to the Provincial Budget Consultation Panel on February 10.
4) Development Charges and Infrastructure Funding
While the final details have not been released, reductions in Development Charges (DCs) are anticipated. As stated, one aspect will be reduction of DCs for attainable, and rental units, which is welcomed.
However, further reduction of DCs on all builds are being contemplated in Bill 23.
Ostensibly, this would be to reduce housing input costs so that final selling prices will be lowered. That seems too much of a leap of faith. Plus, the definition of “attainable” has initially been set at 80% of the average market sales price.
For TBM, that would mean houses below about $800,000 would be classified as “attainable”. That is clearly not appropriate, nor would it be effective in addressing the housing supply challenge.
The BMRA recommended that local standards be enacted to define “attainable” for all areas. Reductions in DCs, if not supported by some other form of infrastructure funding for Municipalities, could result in the need for higher property taxes to fill that gap. High construction inflation rates will only exacerbate the problem. We will be closely monitoring how this infrastructure funding issue plays out.
5) Unanticipated Impacts
One relevant issue tabled was that Ontario already faces a shortage of skilled construction trade workers, and if not mitigated through some means, will likely compromise the realization of the government’s target for accelerated housing starts.
Brian spoke to ongoing support for colleges offering training in trades, and also raised the prospect of sourcing more foreign trained workers. This is a practical limitation that the Province will need to deal with, as best it can.
It was encouraging that our MPP was prepared to meet with TBM community representatives. He left the door open for further discussion, and while it would be naive to think that the session will lead to material changes to Bill 23 regulations yet to be announced, having the opportunity to share our concerns was of value.
Brian certainly left the session with a much better understanding of the issues
specific to TBM, and that should position him to more effectively represent our interests going forward.