Ford government left key strategies out of housing legislation, critics say

Critics of the Ford government's plan to make housing more affordable say the government shied away from including some key measures that would make the goal a reality.

Housing task force called for more density in suburban areas, less local consultation

Critics of the Ford government's plan to make housing more affordable say the government shied away from including some key measures that would make the goal a reality. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

The government of Premier Doug Ford shied away from including key measures in its housing affordability plan that would make the goal a reality, critics say.

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has tabled a bill that, in part, takes aim at delays within planning at the municipal level, suggesting the approval process in place slows down home construction and drives up prices, which have jumped 28 per cent over last year in the Greater Toronto Area, with the average home price reaching $1.3 million in the region in February.

"It's mostly just disappointing," said Ramsey Kilani of More Neighbours Toronto, an organization advocating more density in single-family neighbourhoods by allowing more multi-unit dwellings — just one of the strategies the new bill doesn't include.

Speeding up approvals for home developments is one of the key goals in the More Homes for Everyone Act. Municipalities can use a new "Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator" tool to speed up approvals when building non-profit housing, community centres, hospitals and long-term care homes. Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clarke can also directly approve development projects. 

Ramsey Kilani, a member of More Neighbours Toronto, wants more density in single-family neighbourhoods. (Submitted by Ramsey Kilani)

What isn't in the act is many of the 55 recommendations from a report by the Housing Affordability Task Force released in February. The task force was aimed at reining in home prices by boosting the supply of housing, considering the cost of buying the average home in Ontario has nearly tripled over the past 10 years, according to the report. 

Some of the key task force recommendations that were not part of Wednesday's legislation include:

  •  Increasing density in neighbourhoods zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
  •  Limiting the time spent consulting the public on housing developments.
  •  Legislating timelines for development approvals, and if the municipality misses the deadline, the project gets an automatic green light. 

Kilani said those measures should have been in the bill.

"The Ford government loves to talk about cutting red tape," he said. "But, more meetings, more consultations — that's more red tape." 

Recommendations 'too bold'

Kilani wonders whether the Ford government excluded those task force recommendations to avoid stirring the pot in the vote-rich suburban 905 area surrounding Toronto with an election just three months away.

Ontario's Big City Mayors group applauded the legislation, saying portions will "provide more opportunities to build much needed housing, in partnership with municipalities," according to the group's chair, Cam Guthrie, who is the mayor of Guelph, about 94 kilometres west of Toronto.

And some of the measures in the task force report that the PCs left out of the bill were also hugely unpopular with municipalities.

"I rejoice whenever a dumb idea doesn't make it to the table," said Oakville Mayor Rob Burton. "You were just going to willy-nilly add density anywhere and that's just crazy." 

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, who says her city supports the idea of creating affordable housing but worries the task force's suggestions take some decision-making power away from municipalities.

"What are [the PCs] going to do after the election if they're re-elected?"

Steve Clark, Ontario's minister of municipal affairs and housing, takes questions from members of the media after tabling the new legislation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Clark has dismissed accusations the changes are related to the June 2 election, but the housing minister admitted Wednesday the lack of support from cities was the key reason the government held off on including the task force's recommendations in the first phase of the plan. 

"The recommendations were a bit too bold for some communities," Clark said 

"I couldn't bust forward … when municipalities are so adamantly opposed. I have to get them onside." 

In a release, advocacy group Environmental Defence criticized Clark's comments, saying they signal the "provincial government does not intend to act before it is too late." 

However, in a fireside chat with the Ontario Real Estate Association Wednesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said municipalities are also responsible for driving development.

"Unfortunately, not all of them are using the tools we're giving them," he said. "Use the tools." 

The "tools" Ford was referring to are zoning changes included in a 2019 bill aimed at boosting the Ontario's housing supply. The province says some municipalities are still restricting the use of those measures.

'Little fixes without a strategy'

But the legislation does not really help people trying to buy a home, say housing experts like Luisa Sotomayor, an associate professor in the faculty of environmental and urban change at Toronto's York University,

"These are little fixes without a real strategy," said Sotomayor, pointing out the new measures are friendly to developers. 

Sotomayor wants the government to focus on strategies that will encourage projects including non-profit housing developments.

She says the plan has to "look at the needs of households that cannot access what the government is saying is affordable."