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'We can't build our way out of this': Housing crisis can't be solved just by increasing supply, advocates say

A provincial housing affordability task force report is 'conceptually flawed' in its premise that exclusionary zoning and too much public input is to blame, Newmarket mayor says
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Pointing fingers at local government for the shortage in housing supply will do little to address Ontario's housing affordability crisis, some York Region housing advocates say.

The premise that municipalities are largely responsible for the current lack of housing supply is "conceptually flawed," said Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, who is chair of Housing York, in reaction to the province's housing affordability task force report that says inclusionary zoning and less public input will help Ontario reach a goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

Increased supply alone can't solve housing affordability, Taylor said in an email statement.

The report states, "More supply is key" and calls for a depoliticization of the process for building, saying, "Municipalities allow far more public consultation than is required."

"By almost entirely focusing on these two mistaken ideas the document falls well short of addressing housing affordability in a comprehensive manner," Taylor said.   

"We can't build our way out of this," agrees Yvonne Kelly, co-chair of the Social Planning Council of York Region. "We can build more but is it going to be affordable and what is affordable? I think there's a lot of questions to be asked."

The provincial task force listed 55 recommendations to address the ongoing housing crisis.

Five main recommendations include:

  • Reduce and streamline urban design rules to lower costs of development.
  • Align efforts between all levels of government to incentivize more housing.
  • Stop using exclusionary zoning —whereby bylaws regulate land use to prevent the building of one type of structure on land zoned for another — to allow for greater density.
  • Prevent abuse of the appeal process and address the backlog at the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) by prioritizing cases that increase housing. According to the report, 1,300 OLT cases remain unresolved.
  • Depoliticize the approvals process to address community opposition and cut red tape to speed up housing. The report states that of 35 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Canada is second-to-last in the time it takes to approve a building project.

Ontario is in a housing crisis and there aren't enough homes to meet the needs of its residents, the report states. If the problem isn't fixed, house prices will continue to rise.

Two thirds of Canada's housing shortage is in Ontario. At the end of 2021, the average price for a house in Ontario was $923,000 — triple what it was 10 years ago — while income rose just 38 per cent, making home ownership out of reach for most, the report said.  

"Just building more without doing other things will make more people wealthy but it won't address the fact that affordability is a problem unless were building truly affordable housing," said Kelly.

Rent control is a major problem, and it was a disappointment that rent control and the preservation of existing affordable housing were not mentioned in the report, she added.

There has been no legal limit set on how much landlords can charge in rent for new builds that are occupied for the first time after Nov. 15, 2018.

Building without restrictions like rent control was attempted in the 1990s, she said, and it didn't work then.

"We've been here before."

The report was created without any input from the public sector, said Kelly. If they had been consulted, the recommendations would be vastly different.

"Primarily those that were consulted on this were from the private sector and I'm sorry but we need to have people who are also advocates working on the ground, those who understand the not-for-profit housing market, those who have lived experience with this and municipalities that are doing the work already, consulted with, not just the private sector."

All the report does is make municipalities look like they're the problem, said Kelly. It's the municipalities who struggle because they're on the frontlines and bear the financial burden of supporting those in poverty or those living on low incomes or in distress.

"During our deliberations, we met with and talked to over 140 organizations and individuals including industry associations representing builders and developers, planners, architects, realtors and others; labour unions, social justice advocates, elected officials at the municipal level, academics and research groups, and municipal planners," the report stated.

There is no indication as to whether the government will take the recommendations into account but Taylor hopes the province will finally consult municipal leaders before taking action so they can "more fully understand the positive and negative implications of these recommendations."

Kelly doesn't take much stock in the report.

"It's window dressing," she said.

The report's release comes shortly after small municipal mayors were excluded from a Jan. 19 affordable housing summit hosted by Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark at an affordable housing summit.

During the summit, Ford announced more than $45 million for a new fund to help Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities modernize, streamline and accelerate processes for managing and approving housing applications.

The nine-member housing affordability task force was appointed in December 2021 to provide Ontario with recommendations on how to address market housing supply and affordability.

Editor's Note, Feb. 16, 2022: This article was altered to include a statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding consultations.