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Newmarket, York Region reeling from sweeping housing legislation

'If the developers are not paying development fees ... then the taxpayer is," Newmarket mayor says of proposal to slash municipal charges for some projects
2022-05-05 Dunlop West affordable housing RB
File photo

Newmarket and York Region are grappling with sweeping new provincial housing legislation that will shake up the planning world.

The province announced the More Homes Built Faster Act this week, which includes measures like removing site plan controls from projects with fewer than 10 units, exempting affordable housing and inclusion zoning units from development and other municipal charges, and raising the non-resident speculation tax from 20 to 25 per cent.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said he appreciates efforts to address the housing crisis, but added that the legislation stands to add hundreds of hours of work on already burdened municipal planning departments.

“The provincial government is trying to address housing shortages — and, hopefully, also to address the housing affordability crisis — but I think they need to consider the funding end with municipalities,” he said. “(The province is) reducing our fees and ... increasing the workload. That’s not a sustainable model.” 

The legislation aims to help the province meet its goal of building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years. Among other measures, it proposes giving landowners the right to build up to three residential units without a bylaw amendment, legislating quicker timelines for housing around transit areas, and reducing development charges on rental units.

It is also setting housing targets for municipalities, with the province proposing that Newmarket build 12,000 new homes by 2031.

“Ontario’s housing supply crisis is a problem which has been decades in the making. It will take both short-term strategies and long-term commitment from all levels of government, the private sector and not-for-profits to drive change,” Associate Minister of Housing Michael Parsa said in a news release.

Taylor said further details are required to fully understand the legislation. But he added that cutting development charges — meant to fund the cost of services for new development — is a concern. The Association of Municipalities Ontario has also spoken out against the move.

“We have limited revenue sources and revenue-raising capabilities,” Taylor said. “If developers are not paying development fees, if they’re not paying permit fees, then the taxpayer is.” 

He added that although cutting development fees for affordable units could make sense, there should be an offsetting option to put that onto the development fees for other kinds of housing like single-detached units. That is not currently allowed, meaning it could require raising property taxes instead, Taylor said. 

York Region is also still processing what the legislation will mean for it.

“The region is reviewing the details on this new legislation to better understand any impacts,” York’s director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said. “Continued leadership from the provincial government is vital to deliver critical services.”

But the legislation is getting praise from the development sector. The Ontario Real Estate Association is backing the new bill, saying that reducing fees will help spur more construction.

“The over 50 actions in the More Homes Built Faster Act will go a long way to reversing declining rates of home ownership in Ontario,” association president Tim Hudak said.

But he added more should be done to help home buyers now by eliminating a land transfer tax for first-time buyers or increasing a rebate.

Taylor said there is potential in allowing easier modifications on existing residential properties, depending on how it is regulated.

But he raised concern regarding the province’s focus on building more units, as opposed to more measures to ensure affordability. He said the measures should help to create more affordable units, but there needs to be more focus on them.

“If we don’t at some point turn our minds in a more focused way,” he said, “we’re only going to be building more units for the wealthy and the relatively wealthy. I hope there’s more (measures) to come.”