Developers seem super pleased about Doug Ford's new housing plan
Doug Ford's provincial government revealed its More Homes Built Faster Act on Tuesday, a sweeping plan to construct 1.5 million homes in Ontario by 2031, including 285,000 homes in Toronto.
The ambitious legislation aims to address a critical shortage in housing through a long list of bold measures such as zoning regulations to allow triplex units on lots zoned for single-family homes, cutting development charges and removing a layer from the approval process for projects with fewer than ten units.
Ontario’s housing crisis was decades in the making. Our government is taking bold action to build 1.5 million homes over 10 years to put the dream of ownership into reach of more Ontarians.— Doug Ford (@fordnation) October 25, 2022
Thank you @TorontoRBOT for hosting us today to talk about our plan to build. pic.twitter.com/SXRyDV9HAz
The More Homes Built Faster Act has been met with a mixed reception. Housing advocates seem cautiously optimistic, while the move is celebrated by developers and organizations representing their interests. However, environmentalists, preservationists and other groups are sounding alarm bells over the repeal of environmental and heritage protections to fast-track housing.
Among the organizations speaking in favour of the new act, the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), Ontario Home Builders' Association (OHBA) and Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) all issued press releases celebrating the announcement.
TRREB President Kevin Crigger stated, "Municipalities have a direct impact on housing affordability, not only by adding direct costs like development fees and land transfer taxes, but also by delaying and preventing desperately needed new housing supply with slow approval processes, duplication and outdated restrictive zoning."
Other organizations, like the OHBA, echoed this sentiment: "The current housing supply and affordability crisis is a man-made problem that was created in the course of a decade and a half and will take time to fix," said Luca Bucci, CEO of the OHBA, adding, "It starts today with Ontario's new big, bold housing plan."
RESCON president Richard Lyall spoke in support of "specific reforms in the plan, such as changes to development charges, allowing more homes to be built near transit, and updating heritage conservation rules will help move the needle on housing."
But it's important to note that all of these organizations benefit from the building of new homes, and that the expected boost in new construction made possible by the Ontario government's changes — though framed as measures to curb a housing crisis — is only going to further line the pockets of the development industry.
Bold plan to make your developer friends richer, build unaffordable housing, ruin environmentally sensitive areas, ignore municipal planners--- and spend tax-payer money to fight testifying at an inquiry. You are appalling.— Dearlove (@debra_dlddm) October 26, 2022
Former Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, 2018 mayoral candidate and now real estate developer Jennifer Keesmaat tweeted her support of the big changes, though, at this point, it's hard to tell whether that's Keesmaat's opinion as a city planner or home builder.
Others seem less excited about what is to come. A deep dive on the environmental ramifications published by The Narwhal finds that the legislation will repeal three-dozen regulations that give conservation authorities oversight on development in regards to pollution and conservation of land.
The most devastating change to the OWES manual: "single wetland units that are part of a previously evaluated wetland complex can be re-evaluated (re-scored and re-mapped)— Nick Stow (@Stowecology) October 26, 2022
without requiring a complete re-evaluation of all units in the existing wetland
There will likely be less protection for heritage assets, as the province states that "proposed changes to the Ontario Heritage Act would renew and update Ontario's heritage policies and strengthen the criteria for heritage designation and update guidelines."
This probably means you're less likely to see an old soy sauce factory get in the way of new housing, but also likely means that other buildings more worthy of preservation may be lost.
The public will also have fewer avenues to challenge new developments, with the legislation proposing changes to the Ontario Land Tribunal Act that the province claims "would help speed up proceedings, resolve cases more efficiently and streamline processes." Proposed measures include the elimination of third-party appeals and giving the tribunal new power to dismiss appeals.
Despite the legislation appearing quite favourable to the development industry (in typical Doug Ford fashion), it's difficult to argue that this combination of measures would not be effective in bringing a huge influx of housing to Toronto.
Some aspects of the legislation, like the introduction of as-of-right zoning for triplexes on single-family lots, are surprisingly progressive and would go a long way in adding gentle density to low-rise neighbourhoods.
Other zoning changes that look fantastic on paper — for more than just developers — include the creation of new as-of-right zoning near transit stations to promote transit-oriented development.
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