Doug Ford's plan to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 is in trouble, budget suggests
Meanwhile, no new funding announced to help municipalities offset costs of Bill 23
Doug Ford's government wants to build 1.5 million homes in the next decade, but new data in its 2023 budget suggests the province is already off-target.
The budget estimates there will be some 80,000 new housing starts — meaning "the beginning of construction work on the building where the dwelling unit will be located," according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — per year for the next three years.
That figure would need to nearly double for the government to reach its goal.
The projections also mark a setback from 2022, when 96,000 new homes were built — the second-highest number since 1988. Ontario officials stressed the projections in the budget are based solely on figures derived from the private sector, and don't include future policies and measures that could be implemented to help the province reach its goal.
"We're not going to relent in our ambition to get housing built across the province," Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy told reporters ahead of the budget's official release.
"I'm an optimist and it's a long-term goal," Bethlenfalvy added, referring to the government's 1.5 million home plan.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles doesn't share his confidence.
"This government has no housing plan," she told reporters Thursday after the budget was tabled.
"It is deeply concerning that those housing starts are so far back, that we are nowhere near reaching the goal that we need to — that even that this government set for themselves."
Ontario continues to have some of the highest housing prices in Canada, and the cost of home ownership remains out of reach for millions in a province where Premier Doug Ford has said "everyone's dream is to have a little white picket fence."
The high cost of housing has driven many to leave the province, and it will likely continue to be a challenge as the province's population grows — largely due to immigration.
Higher interest rates have slowed the real estate market down — something that may continue in 2023 — but the province's plan to offer more people a chance at home ownership largely hinges on the work of building up supply.
No new funding to offset Bill 23
One key policy the province has put forward to help boost that supply is Bill 23, which sees the freezing, reducing and exempting fees developers pay to build affordable housing, non-profit housing and inclusionary zoning units — meaning affordable housing in new developments — as well as some rental units.
But the 2023 budget lacks funding for municipalities that stand to lose millions of dollars from those axed fees, which historically have been used to pay for services to support new homes, such as road and sewer infrastructure and community centres.
In a report released earlier this week, Toronto said its own housing plan would be "at risk" if it were forced to foot the bill for the province's ambitious targets.
Housing Minister Steve Clark had previously promised to make cities whole when it comes to the loss of that funding.
"There should be no funding shortfall for housing enabling infrastructure as a result of Bill 23, provided municipalities achieve and exceed their housing pledge levels and growth targets," Clark wrote in a letter to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario last November.
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Speaking on CBC's Here and Now on Thursday, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said she will hold the province accountable to that promise.
"We're looking forward to working closely with them so that municipalities can be made whole and don't suffer any revenue loss," she said.
Ontario needs 72,000 more workers to reach goal
Adding to the complexity of building 1.5 million more homes within a 10-year span are historic labour shortages.
The province says it will need 72,000 additional construction workers by 2027 to help reach its target. The budget earmarked $3.5 million to help make that happen — a figure that would roughly equate to just 2,000 more workers in the sector.
Still, the Ontario Home Builders' Association says it has seen "considerable action" from all levels of government to make it easier for workers to get into the skilled trades.
CEO Luca Bucci adds that it will be essential for the province to work with municipalities and the federal government to "find opportunities to make it easier to build homes more quickly and to bring more skilled labour into this country through proactive immigration policies."
With files from John Rieti