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York Region slams new provincial housing bill

'That math is so bad. It’s not even remotely realistic,' mayor says of Bill 23's target of 12,000 new homes for Newmarket
USED 2019 01 20 York Region clock tower DK
The clock towers at the Region of York Administrative Centre. Debora Kelly/NewmarketToday

York Region is slamming the province over a series of housing policy proposals that council members said misses the mark.

Council passed a resolution today, Nov. 10, asking the province to halt Bill 23, known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, to allow for more consultation with municipalities. The bill imposes a series of policy proposals aimed at speeding up construction, including removing development charges on some kinds of development, freezing conservation authority fees and setting housing targets for municipalities.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said municipalities need more time to respond and there are several problematic parts to the bill. 

“The implications are so huge,” he said. “We have to rapidly mobilize as a municipality … We have to take a really strong stand.” 

The province has put a 30-day commenting period on the bill, something the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is pushing to extend. At the same time, the province has separately introduced changes to add settlement to the Greenbelt, including in York Region, something not accounted for in the region’s new official plan.

Bill 23 sets housing targets for area municipalities, including a 12,000 new home target for Newmarket by 2031. But Taylor said the town only has the sewage capacity for about 2,000 more homes, and it will take at least six years to address that through a new sewage plant expansion.

“That math is so bad. It’s not even remotely realistic,” Taylor said. 

The bill's financial implications have also been troubling municipalities, with councillors expressing concern about where the lost dollars will come from. The bill proposes to reduce development charges on rental units and eliminate them from affordable units. 

CAO Bruce Macgregor said it represents about a 10 per cent reduction in charges collected, which has implications for service expansion to new builds.

“We need some answers from the provincial government as to where those dollars come from,” Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said. “If we don’t have them, we can’t advance infrastructure, and the very homes they want built won’t get built.” 

But Vaughan Regional Councillor Gino Rosati said they need to be constructive. He said something needs to happen to address housing, and though he said it is not acceptable that taxpayers make up the lost dollars, the bill should not have to start from scratch.

“That’s not going to fly, and I think it puts us in a position where we don’t want to play ball,” he said. “The government has done a lot of work. We have done a lot of work … Let’s fix what is being proposed." 

The Greenbelt proposal also garnered ire from Taylor. Putting the issue of opening it for development aside, he said the settlement areas being proposed there are coming with no strings attached, whereas the province should have mandated at least a certain amount of the new housing to go there, at least 25 per cent, be affordable.

It is “a complete abdication of leadership,” Taylor said. “The leverage was there and it wasn’t utilized.”

Taylor added that strong messaging is critical, and the region needs to push on this now lest it be too late and Bill 23 gets passed. 

Macgregor responded that many municipalities across the province are similarly upset about Bill 23 and would likely be co-ordinating to push against it.

“Right now, what it means is less parkland, higher property taxes, less environmental protections,” Taylor said. “We can fix this, we can work with them. We need to get a message out quickly.”