Ontario mayors speak out against proposal to give more power over housing to province

Ontario Mayors are raising concerns about a new report from the Ford government that recommends taking some control over housing policy away from municipalities and giving it to the province. 

Local officials know best, Toronto Mayor John Tory says after task force report released

Low-rise apartments and new developments in Toronto’s east end on Tuesday. A report commissioned by the Doug Ford government says Ontario needs to increase urban density by building 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario mayors are raising concerns about a new report from a Ford government task force that recommends taking some control over housing policy away from municipalities and giving it to the province. 

Among other things, the report from the Housing Affordability Task Force, released early Tuesday morning, is calling for "binding provincial action" to allow buildings up to four storeys tall, and up to four units, on a residential lot. It's also calling for less public consultation.

Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters Tuesday he's had "extensive discussions" with Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.

"I have emphasized to them that it is local officials ... who know best, not the provincial government," Tory said. 

The task force recommendations aim to have 1.5 million homes built in the next 10 years across Ontario at a time when an estimated 70 per cent of land zoned for housing in Toronto is restricted to single-detached or semi-detached homes. That's as the cost of buying a home has nearly tripled in the area over the past 10 years.

"I am truly disappointed in the housing task force report," said Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas in a statement. 

"Apparently, the solution to the housing affordability crisis is to limit public input and allow developers to build whatever they want, wherever they want. Profit driven public planning won't solve the affordability crisis in our communities."

WATCH | Toronto mayor says local officials know housing best:

Local officials know what's best: Toronto mayor

1 year ago
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Mayor John Tory says it should be the responsibility of the municipal government, not the province, to plan out urban areas based on the needs of people living in Toronto.

The report specifies that affordable housing was not part of the task force's mandate and that cabinet would deal with that issue separately.

A statement released Tuesday by the organization Ontario Big City Mayors, of which Tory is a member, also expressed concerns.

"Unilateral actions, absent municipal input, may have unintended consequences that slow down development and reduce the community support needed to continue to sustainably add housing," the statement reads.

"While overcoming NIMBYism is essential to success, so is respect for local decision-making and the democratic process." 

Changing NIMBYism to 'YIMBYism'

The acronym NIMBY stands for "Not In My Back Yard" and describes a belief among some homeowners in single-family neighbourhoods that building denser communities and more affordable housing is great in theory, but not close to where they live.

The task force report raises concerns with NIMBYism, which it says some have now re-termed BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

"My neighbour can tear down what was there to build a monster home, but I'm not allowed to add a basement suite to my home," the report quotes one homeowner as saying.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured here speaking to reporters with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark in Toronto on Sept. 10, 2018. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Bilal Akhtar is hoping the recommendations in the report will mean the end of stories like that. Akhtar is with More Neighbours Toronto, an organization pushing for the building of more "new multi-family homes in every neighbourhood," according to its website. 

"You are looking at less red tape, you are looking at faster time to approval for some projects," he said.

He describes his group as having a YIMBY focus, meaning "Yes In My Backyard.".

Akhtar was happy to see the recommendation to allow mid-rise buildings of up to 11 storeys along transit corridors, plus permitting up to four suites in one residential lot.

"That is going to unlock a lot of land."

Deterring investors who push up housing prices 

The Toronto Region Board of Trade also supports the recommendation to allow those increases in housing density to "help address the affordability crisis that we have highlighted on behalf of the region's business community," the board said in a news release.

"Put simply, this would be good for businesses and good for people looking for homes," said Jan De Silva, the organization's president.

The report focused only on adding supply to the housing market, not on measures that could decrease demand, especially from investors who snap up multiple homes. Experts have warned that people who own at least two properties make up a larger share of the market, pushing up prices.

"The discussion has been laser-focused on supply and we're forgetting that there's obviously the other side to this economic equation, which is demand and what's driving it," said realtor John Pasalis with Realosophy.

While he called the report's recommendations positive, he expects it'll take five to 15 years to see their effect on the housing market.

"The demand side policies typically have a more immediate impact," Pasalis said. 


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a CBC News reporter based in Toronto. She's originally from Saskatchewan. She speaks Spanish and previously lived and reported in Latin America.