Ontario's curbs on hot housing market coming Thursday

The Ontario government will announce steps tomorrow to try to rein in the cost of buying and renting a home in the Greater Toronto Area, senior provincial officials tell CBC News.

Expanded rent control beyond current 1991 limit also in the works

Although federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau (centre), Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa (left) and Toronto Mayor John Tory announced no concrete steps to cool the GTA housing market after meeting on Tuesday, Sousa indicated his action plan will be released in the next week. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Ontario government will announce steps Thursday to try to rein in the cost of buying and renting a home in the Greater Toronto Area, senior provincial officials tell CBC News.

The province will unveil a package of measures designed to address both supply and demand issues that have driven house prices up by 33 per cent in a year. The package will also include the government's plan for expanding rent control, which currently covers only rental units built before 1991.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is scheduled to make the announcement at 9 a.m. in Toronto with Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Housing Minister Chris Ballard.

The province's housing plan is ready to go, Sousa indicated Tuesday. 

"In the coming week, the Ontario government will announce a suite of measures designed to increase supply and address demand," Sousa told a news conference in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood. "We've developed a comprehensive action plan to help stabilize the housing market."

Sousa was speaking after he met Tuesday with his federal counterpart Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory. Little of substance emerged from their summit, beyond a commitment not to introduce any measures that would actually increase housing demand and drive prices further upward. 

But Sousa said he will announce a suite of reforms within the next week. His budget is to be delivered April 27. 

"Ontarians can't afford to wait, we need to act now," Sousa said, adding, "Stay tuned." He promised a plan that takes into account "all of the work and information that we've obtained in the last number of months."

The average home in the Greater Toronto Area now costs $916,567, up 33 per cent in a year. The price is more than 12 times the gross annual income of the average household in the GTA. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Provincial officials indicate the measures will also include steps to tackle unethical practices by some real estate agents. "It's not about coming down with a hammer on the entire real estate industry," a senior official in the Wynne government told CBC News, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Tory said real estate agent tactics were discussed at the meeting. 

"The real estate industry has to have a look at itself," said Tory. "Some of the practices that have evolved over time in terms of how people buy houses may be contributing to the frothiness of this market."

Sousa has previously suggested that real estate bidding wars are in his sights.

One measure that won't be imposed is an increase in the capital gains tax rate on profits from selling a real estate investment property.

Sousa had asked Morneau last month to boost that rate, but the federal minister made no change in his budget. On Tuesday, Morneau shot it down definitively. "Everything we wanted to say about capital gains taxes was in our last budget," he said.

Rent control 'writing on the wall'

Measures to rein in the cost of rental housing will be revealed with the steps on home sales, according to government sources. Housing Minister Chris Ballard promised to take steps to strengthen rent control in the wake of the CBC Toronto series No Fixed Address, which highlighted massive rent increases faced by tenants in newer buildings.

Owners of pre-1991 buildings in Ontario cannot raise the rent on an existing tenant by more than an amount set by the province annually, based on the rate of inflation. There are no restrictions on rent increases in units built later.

The province's biggest landlord group acknowledged on Tuesday that some expansion of rent control is on the way and urged the government to keep it minimal. The Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario recommended the government cap annual rent increases in buildings built after 1991 at 10 per cent, but give newly built units an exemption from the cap for 20 years after construction.     

"They can see the writing on the wall," said the senior provincial government official.

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark

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