Province wants 1.5 new homes by 2031
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative provincial government recently presented the latest step in its effort to boost the province’s housing supply.
On April 6, the provincial government introduced the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023. On the same day, it announced it would eliminate the old provincial planning statement and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and replace the two documents with a new provincial planning statement. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, said these measures will further its goal of constructing 1.5 million homes by 2031.
The proposed changes follow the More Homes Built Faster Act, which the province tabled last October, and was primarily aimed at speeding up real-estate development.
For the new provincial planning statement, Sahil Shoor, partner at Gowling WLG, says the most significant proposed amendments include the removal of mandatory intensification and density targets for municipalities and the expanded permissions for residential intensification. The latter will permit new housing options within previously developed areas, says Shoor, who is based in Waterloo and has a litigation and dispute resolution practice, the focus of which includes land-use planning and real property disputes.
Also notable is the proposed removal of the comprehensive review occurring prior to the allowance of the expansion of a settlement area boundary, he says. The new approach would allow expansion after planning authorities consider infrastructure needs, potential threats to specialty crops, the “minimum distance separation formulae,” impact on agricultural lands, and whether “expansion provides for the phased progression of urban development.”
Ontario’s proposal to scrap the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and its changes to the provincial planning statement would “kneecap housing supply efforts and unleash unprecedented sprawl on forests, farmlands and wetlands,” says Philip Pothen, a Toronto land-use planning lawyer and counsel and Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence.
“It's really another mask-off moment. Similar to what we saw with the Greenbelt.”
The new planning statement would eliminate the requirement that a hectare of farmland or wildlife habitat developed for residential use house at least 50 residents. Pothen notes that the province previously reduced that number from 80. The province also proposes to eliminate the minimum density requirement in “high-demand municipalities,” he says. Previously, half of the planned new residents would need to settle in existing neighbourhoods rather than in the expanded boundary.
Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, proposes changes to several different pieces of legislation. Most pertinent, says Shoor, are the adjustments to the Planning Act and Municipal Act, 2001.
The province’s Municipal Act amendments include authorizing the minister to make regulations on various municipal matters. These include “imposing restrictions, limits and conditions on the powers of local municipalities to prohibit and regulate the demolition and conversion of residential rental properties.” The minister will also be authorized to prescribe “conditions that local municipalities must include as a requirement for obtaining a permit,” says Shoor.
For the Planning Act, Bill 97 proposes limiting the rights of appeal to official plan policies and zoning by-laws authorizing “the use of one residential unit in a building or structure ancillary to a detached house, semi-detached house or rowhouse on a ‘parcel of land.’” Currently, the Planning Act does not allow these appeals in cases concerning a “parcel of urban residential land,” says Shoor.
Bill 97 also includes a new section to the Planning Act that would add to the Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) authority the power to order that policy statements and provincial and official plans “do not apply in respect of a licence, permit, approval, permission or other matter required before a use permitted by the order may be established,” he says.
“In effect, this allows the minister to exempt approvals, and order that lands subject to an MZO do not need to obtain other land use planning approvals.”
If Bill 97 passes, Shoor says he may encourage clients to petition for MZOs. “This will greatly reduce the burden of planning applications,” he says.
The exemption for MZOs from compliance with official plans and provincial policy statements, combined with removing the Conservation Authority approval requirement, is a “key concern” for Pothen.
“This means that the environmental damage that comes with MZOs will be potentially much greater than it would have been otherwise,” he says. “We have seen how prone the MZO mechanism is to misuse. We’ve seen projects that were approved on one pretence – on an emergency basis – sit unbuilt, on the books for years now, and eventually turned into something entirely different.”
“Anything that further supercharges the MZO power and frees it from substantive policy direction is inviting corruption and inviting bad governance.”
According to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the last two years saw more “housing starts” than Ontario has achieved in 30 years, and in 2022, “rental housing starts” reached an all-time high. The province said Bill 97 would increase density and ensure enough land is available for the new houses.
The proposed legislation also includes “steps to make life easier for renters,” said the Ministry. These include investments in the Landlord and Tenant Board, clarifications and enhancements of tenants’ rights to install air conditioners, protections against renovictions, and doubling fines for violations under the Residential Tenancies Act for corporations.