Toronto

Ford kicks off housing summit with funding to help municipalities cut red tape

Ontario's largest communities will get new funding to help speed up development approvals, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday as he met with municipal leaders to discuss ways to address the housing crisis.

New $45M Streamline Development Approval Fund to help 39 municipalities approve applications

Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell says housing prices are 'out of control.' The premier, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark and the mayors of Ontario's 29 largest municipalities met Wednesday to discuss housing affordability in the province. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ontario's largest communities will get new funding to help speed up development approvals, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday as he met with municipal leaders to discuss ways to address the housing crisis.

Ford said his goal for the summit was to come up with concrete ways to allow more families to buy a home.

"While the solutions may seem obvious, implementing them takes a lot of hard work and determination," he said in opening the virtual summit.

"We know we need to better standardize processes and procedures across regions, and we know we need to improve data collection and reporting so we can better track progress where we can do better."

A new $45-million Streamline Development Approval Fund will help the 39 largest municipalities approve housing applications more quickly, Ford said. As well, the province said it will work with municipalities to develop a data standard for planning and development applications that should speed up the processes.

The housing crisis in Ontario won't be solved overnight, said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, but removing red tape can help get more homes built faster.

"There is no silver bullet," Clark said after the summit.

"Addressing Ontario's housing supply crisis is a long-term strategy that requires long-term commitment, collaboration and coordination."

'We need housing of all types,' minister says

The Progressive Conservative government is expecting a report early this year from a housing affordability task force, which was appointed to look into measures to boost the supply of rental and ownership housing, reduce red tape, and other options to address housing issues.

Clark said changes to zoning rules to allow for more density are among many suggestions under consideration.

"We need housing of all types," he said. "We need missing middle, we need that purpose built rental, yes, we need single family as well. But we also need that that mixture of homes that really reflects local communities."

Jeff Lehman, the mayor of Barrie and the chair of the Ontario's Big City Mayors caucus, said the new development approval fund is appreciated, but more action is needed.

"The run-up in prices is so steep and the rise in rent is so high we're going to need more substantive solutions to solve the problem," he said after the summit.

"We can always make the processes better or faster, I think, but we're going to have to be bolder than that if we're going to make a substantive difference in the actual cost of housing."

Ontario could change tax policy to create incentives to build rental apartments, Lehman said as one example.

Ontario's Opposition New Democrats say they want to see more rent controls and measures to help people buy their first home, as well as stricter rules for speculators.

Premier Doug Ford says tackling the housing crisis will require collaboration from all levels of government, and his goal for the summit was to come up with concrete ways to allow more families to buy a home. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Ford and Clark are set to host a meeting on Sunday with rural, remote and northern municipalities to discuss their specific housing challenges.

Figures in Ontario's fall economic statement show year-to-date home starts were 16 per cent higher than in the previous year, and rental housing starts were 14 per cent higher.

In the resale market, a frenzy peaked in March 2021 at a record high, before moderating by September. But in that month the average home resale price in Ontario was 31.4 per cent higher than the February 2020 pre-pandemic level.

The government pointed to low interest rates, higher overall disposable incomes, limited resale listings and shifting home preferences to explain the strong demand.

Telling figures illustrating the province's heated housing markets can also be found in the land transfer tax revenue. In
2020-21, Ontario collected about $3.7 billion in revenue from land transfer taxes. In 2021-22, the total was projected to skyrocket to more than $5 billion.

The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board said earlier this month that a record 121,712 homes were sold through its MLS system last year, up 28 per cent compared with 2020 and nearly eight per cent above the previous 2016 high of 113,040.

The average 2021 selling price set a peak of $1.095 million, up about 18 per cent from the high the prior year of $929,636.

The housing summit comes at a time when the increasing cost of buying a home in Toronto is showing no signs of letting up. Outside of Toronto, while prices may be cheaper, buying a home is getting more expensive and more competitive, even in rural areas.

Prices 'out of control'

Ahead of the summit, the Ontario NDP presented five "urgent changes" it wants on the table at the meeting — specific proposals it believes will lead to more affordable housing right now.

"Housing prices have been rising out of control for years," NDP housing critic Jessica Bell said in a statement. 

"It's really impacting people's lives. People are putting off having babies because they can't afford the extra bedroom. Young people are moving hours away from everything they know and love to find an affordable place," she continued.

"People have to spend such a huge portion of their income on housing, they've got no breathing room in their budgets."

Among its proposed solutions, the NDP wants the government to make it illegal for landlords to raise the rent when a tenant leaves a unit and another moves in. The New Democrats also want the province to put a vacancy tax on people who don't pay taxes in Ontario and own homes in the province they do not live in. 

"Solutions are available, and we need Premier Doug Ford to agree to implement them right now," Bell said.

Renting more unaffordable

Renters are also feeling the pinch.

Douglas Kwan, the director of advocacy and legal services for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says tenants were experiencing an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has "just made things worse".

According Kwan, nearly half of Ontario tenants are paying what's considered unaffordable rent, when more than 30 per cent of their income goes towards housing.

In terms of solutions, Kwan says answers can be found in the past, when he says all levels of government were more committed to creating purpose-built rental housing, including co-ops, non-profits, and community housing.

"They've been a staple of success from the 60s and 70s, and it's a model of success that the province should recommit itself towards," Kwan said in an interview.

Building while protecting the environment

While the Ford government has been focused on increasing the supply of housing by facilitating zoning and building permits, the Ontario Green Party is concerned about the environmental consequences.

In an email to CBC Toronto, Green Leader Mike Schreiner said building more homes will help solve the crisis, but the focus should be on smart growth.

"We can do it in a way that stamps out urban sprawl and protects nature and the places we love. It's about creating livable and affordable communities that work for everyone," Shreiner said.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is accusing Ford of not doing anything to help families afford a home, whether to rent or own.

"Over the last four years, home ownership has become out of reach for almost all young families," Del Duca said in a statement to CBC Toronto.

"Ontario Liberals believe that increasing housing supply, protecting renters, and building affordable housing are key to creating a housing market that works for everyone," the statement said.

With files from Trevor Dunn

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