Initiatives and report focus on streamlining home approval process and monitoring progress: lawyer
The Ontario government has introduced several initiatives to accelerate the construction of new homes and increase supply and affordability options. Katarzyna Sliwa, municipal planning lawyer and partner at Dentons, says the recent advancements aim to address the province’s growing housing crisis and may significantly impact land-use planning and development in the future.
Sliwa says rising land prices and increasing costs of labour and materials, NIMBYism, restrictions on developing land, and lengthy approval processes influence the province’s affordability crisis; meanwhile, immigration numbers are increasing, and many immigrant populations are coming to Ontario seeking homes.
She says a recent analysis of the province’s growth plan has received criticism that its projections were flawed and inaccurate. “It’s a big boiling pot of things contributing to the housing affordability issues and crisis in Ontario.”
In January, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark met with big-city mayors and regional chairs to discuss potential strategies to address Ontario’s housing supply and affordability crisis.
During the summit, Premier Ford announced $45 million for a Streamline Development Approval Fund to assist with modernizing, streamlining, and accelerating processes for managing and approving housing applications.
$8 million was announced for an Audit and Accountability Fund to help identify potential savings and efficiencies through third-party review, further accelerate the creation of new homes, and modernize municipal services in large urban municipalities.
The government also announced that through the Ontario Data Authority initiative designed in 2021 to accelerate economic and social growth through improved data sharing, it would work with the municipal sector to develop a data standardization process for planning and development applications among municipalities to accelerate approval timelines.
Sliwa says the impact of the increased funding is yet to be fulfilled, but some municipalities have indicated that they will be using the budget to create or improve online application portals, implement e-permitting systems, and hire staff that can assist with application backlogs.
“I hope things don’t just get lost in the shuffle and that the attempts lead to real results. We’ve seen efforts like this in the industry before,” Sliwa says.
Municipalities are responsible for the implementation on funding, but Sliwa says the province will keep an eye on progress and audit. “There is also the issue and timing of elections in June and October. A lot of good ideas get lost in the shuffle of elections and government change over.”
In December 2021, Ontario created a new Housing Affordability Task Force to provide the government with recommendations on additional measures to address market housing supply and affordability, and Sliwa says the report released on Feb. 8 comprehensively provides 55 suggestions focused on closing the housing supply gap and improving affordability in Ontario.
“The initiatives and report both seem to focus on streamlining the approval process and monitoring progress.”
She says legislation aimed at increasing density through the restriction of exclusionary zoning and other measures could fundamentally change the character of neighbourhoods zoned exclusively for single-family homes. In addition, cutting down on red tape and bureaucratic inefficiencies while limiting appeal rights to the Ontario Land Tribunal may result in faster, and less expensive housing construction.
The Ontario Housing Affordability report recommends that the province set bold targets and make the construction of new homes a priority, specifically by constructing 1.5 million new homes in the next 10 years and amending the Planning Act, Provincial Policy Statement, and Growth Plans to move to highlight existing built-up areas of municipalities as the most important residential housing priorities.
It recommends adopting consistent municipal e-permitting systems to standardize data, requirements for consistent reporting on housing from municipalities and reports on gaps between demand and supply by home types and location at the municipal and provincial levels.
It includes the requirement for greater density and proposes limiting exclusionary zoning through the introduction of “as of right” zones, which would permit housing developments for up to four units and storeys on a single residential lot and by modernizing the Building Code and other policies which currently provide barriers to affordable construction.
The report also recommends an “as of right” approach for converting underutilized commercial properties into residential or mixed uses and unlimited height and density in the proximity of individual major transit stations. In addition, it proposes six to 11 storeys with no minimum parking requirements on any streets utilized by public transit.
Changes to the Ontario Land Tribunal were also suggested by returning decision-making powers on proposed developments back to municipalities, preventing appeals to delay developments, and reducing the tribunal’s current backlog of more than 1,000 cases.
The report proposed creating an Ontario Housing Delivery Fund and urged the federal government to match funding to reward municipalities that meet or surpass provincial housing targets for annual housing growth, reduce approval times for new housing, and remove exclusionary zoning practices.
Sliwa says the province intends to introduce legislation that will respond to the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force report in upcoming parliamentary sittings with the possibility of some reforms being enacted by early spring.
”Our Provincial government has shown that it is serious about addressing the housing crisis in Ontario. It has not been afraid to utilize the tool available under planning legislation such as MZO. These changes will continue to show that the province sees the need to address housing issues.”