Toronto

After grim housing affordability report, critics look to Doug Ford's government for a plan

By 2030, if construction continues at current levels, Canada's housing agency says Ontario will be 1.85 million homes short the number needed to get prices down to affordable levels. Experts say the Ford government needs to do something quickly to solve the problem.

Ontario needs 1.85 million additional homes to achieve affordability by 2030, CMHC warns

A recent report by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says Ontario and British Columbia are two of the most unaffordable provinces for housing in Canada, and need to build millions more homes to achieve affordability by 2030. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Critics say a recent report from the federal government's housing agency is another grim sign that Ontario politicians are not only dropping the ball on affordability, but at a level that they didn't anticipate.

Last Thursday, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) released forecasts that suggest the province's goal of building 1.5 million homes in the next decade isn't nearly enough to keep up with the rate of population growth.

By 2030, if construction continues at current levels, CMHC says Ontario will be 1.85 million homes short of the number needed to get prices down to 2003-04 levels, when the average house cost $500,000. CMHC says as of 2021, the average price of a home in Ontario was $871,000.

For Jacob Dawang, a housing advocate with the organization More Neighbours Toronto, the report was a tough pill to swallow.

"I felt a bit of despair … just knowing how fast and how much action we need to take today to actually make housing affordable again," Dawang said.

He wants politicians to do more and to do it far faster. 

"They're either moving too slowly … or many municipalities and local politicians are in denial of the housing supply crisis and do not want to take action," he said.

In response to the report, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday that lack of supply is one of the main reasons for the housing crisis and wants to focus on finding vacant or surplus government property to alleviate it. Speaking alongside Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ford said all governments need to do more and work together.

But critics say many of the solutions, ranging from ending exclusionary zoning to allowing "as of right" developments, lie in reforming the NIMBYism housing culture and implementing the recommendations released by the Housing Affordability Task Force (HATF) in February. The political will to act on those is needed, they say.

"We don't need more reports," said Mark Richardson, the technical lead for volunteer group Housing NowTO. 

"We need more housing, and there's a bureaucratic and political preference to kick the can just a little bit further down the road."

Improving at too slow a pace

Both Richardson and Dawang say residents' associations that campaign against big projects that would add density to single-family neighbourhoods, and politicians who cater to those groups for votes, are still some of the biggest obstacles to housing reform in Ontario.

"We need to make difficult choices. We need to make them now … and we need to be willing to upset the neighbours," said Richardson.

Housing legislation the government enacted shortly before the election contains measures to streamline approval processes, but lacks key measures such as zoning changes to allow more density in certain neighbourhoods —something that advocates and experts have long urged. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark justifies the absence of those measures in the bill by saying municipalities have told the government they're not ready for them.

Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford are seen here speaking at a news conference on Monday after a closed-door meeting at Queen’s Park in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tory says with the support of the Ontario government, the City of Toronto has no choice but to find new solutions to accommodate the 70,000 people who move to Toronto each year.

"We're not trying to upset stable neighbourhoods," said Tory.

"We are simply trying to say the status quo is not going to be an option for us in a city that is growing as fast as Toronto."

Ford says the government will introduce a "very, very aggressive plan" to tackle the housing crisis. 

The premier has introduced a new associate minister of housing position and has given Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma an additional mandate for government real estate, charged with finding land on which to build housing.

"I'm confident if we can standardize the process, speed up the process, get shovels in the ground, supply some of the land — be it municipal or provincial and federal — we can really move forward," said Ford. 

Getting to the heart of the problem 

The report, CMHC says, falls short on delving into social housing, income distribution's impact on the problem and what types of housing are needed for urban centres. It states more research into these areas is needed.

David Hulchanski, a housing and community development professor at the University of Toronto, says these types of analyses and acknowledgements are more important than ever to get to the root of the housing crisis — especially if governments and experts insist on tackling this issue by mainly increasing supply.

But he says the report fails to address the underpinnings of the market such as housing speculation, lost supply due to short-term rentals, multiple property ownership, tax evasion and money laundering in real estate, and the financing structure in housing.

"Reality is much more complex than what is being presented here."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at vanessa.balintec@cbc.ca and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.

With files from the Canadian Press

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