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'A misguided idea': Newmarket mayor, advocates critique provincial housing plan

Legislation raises foreign speculation tax, penalizes municipalities for not deciding on zoning applications within 90 days
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Newmarket’s mayor and other local housing advocates are calling into question parts of the province’s plan to address housing affordability.

The province introduced new legislation to address the issue March 30, though it has not yet passed. The proposed measures include raising the foreign speculation tax from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, $19 million to speed up cases at the Ontario Land Tribunal and using more provincially owned lands for non-profit housing.

But one point of focus is on the municipal planning process, with the province proposing to require municipalities to start returning zoning application fees if they do not decide on an application within 90 days. Mayor John Taylor said that although there are positives parts to the provincial plan, targeting municipal planning is not the conversation that is needed.

“It bothers me that we’re having conversations about how quickly we’re processing a planning application in the context of affordable housing. I feel like it’s a little bit of a red herring,” Taylor said. “It’s a misguided idea, but I think they will probably figure out that before it’s implemented.” 

The legislation would require municipalities to refund 50 per cent of zoning application fees if no decision is made within 90 days. That ramps up to 100 per cent in 210 days. The province has also proposed moving site plan control from council to staff and a new tool for municipalities to speed up housing or infrastructure approvals via a resolution, requiring ministerial approval.

The provincial plan is also targeting foreign speculation, raising the tax from 15 to 20 per cent and applying it outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe into the entirety of the province.

“We heard that speculative behaviour in the market and long, drawn-out approval processes are making it too difficult too difficult for Ontarians to realize the dream of home ownership,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said in a news release. “However, there is no silver bullet to addressing the housing crisis. It requires a long-term strategy with long-term commitment and coordination at all levels of government.”

Taylor said he welcomes the speculation tax and the prospect of municipal consultation. But he said targeting planning will not be enforceable, as it is an iterative process where a developer might not respond in a timely way to comments from the town and other agencies like the conservation authority. He also said it does not make sense to take potentially take away application fees that can help fund more planners. 

“The province is still taking far too narrow a view of affordable housing,” Taylor said. “This is a much greater issue than just housing supply or municipal process.” 

Affordable Housing Coalition of York Region co-founder Yvonne Kelly similarly said the province needs to look beyond building more homes.

“Any time we move the needle of increasing taxation and discouraging foreign speculation, that is the right direction,” she said. “There’s still a lot that’s missing.”

She said the province needs to take other steps, like regulating non-foreign corporations buying up homes. She said protecting existing affordable housing stock is also critical.

Taylor said the province should slow down, and do more round tables, despite the upcoming election. 

But he said he is optimistic and glad to see more conversations happening at all levels about affordability.

“That makes me hopeful,” he said. “I hope we can bring focus and collaboration to create some truly meaningful steps forward and some meaningful solutions to advance this issue.”