Pledging to make “unnecessary delays” in building new homes in the province a thing of the past, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a $45 million fund to cut red tape and speed up the process of managing and approving applications for building new homes.
Ford, who with his municipal affairs and housing minister Steve Clark met virtually with big city mayors and regional chairs in the province Wednesday to discuss the housing crisis in Ontario and work together to come up with strategies to increase housing supply, said the new Streamline Development Approval Fund will assist Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities modernize and accelerate the home-building process.
Municipalities could, for example, use the money to put in place online systems that make it easier for applicants seeking to build homes to navigate the development approvals process, manage their applications and get timely updates on the status of those applications, the province says.
Zoe Knowles, a spokesperson in Clark’s office, said the ministry is reaching out to municipalities to provide details on how this money can be accessed. Initial funds are expected to flow this coming April, she said.
Additionally, the premier announced Wednesday that $8 million is also being spent to assist large urban centres in Ontario identify possible savings and efficiencies through “third-party reviews” — reviews that could help speed up the creation of new housing.
A third, efficiency-oriented announcement saw the premier committing to work with municipalities to develop a uniform “data standard” for planning and development applications, to help speed up approval times.
“Built with municipalities, data standardization will help improve the quality of data, create consistency across systems, make it easier to measure results, reduce costs for business and governments and support municipalities’ transition to digital service delivery,” the government says.
The province has already formed a task force with housing industry leaders, including non-profits, Indigenous housing groups and economic leaders, to provide expert input on how to increase market housing. The task force is set to provide a report with those recommendations soon.
The housing summit met in private Wednesday. In the coming months, input from the summit will be shared publicly, the province says.
“There will be many more steps on the way as we work together to solve our housing crisis,” Ford said.
“We need to ensure that the unnecessary delays and the red tape that have kept housing from being built are a thing of the past,” he later added.
Clark, the municipal affairs and housing minister, said Ontario needs more housing, built faster, to reduce the “pent up demand” that is driving up home prices.
“As we continue this important dialogue, our government will ensure our municipal partners have the tools they need to unlock and fast track housing in every community across Ontario,” Clark said.
In a virtual question and answer session with the media after the summit, Clark was asked about zoning in Toronto, where much of the city is areas designated residential detached, and whether this zoning should be done away with, as has happened in Edmonton, to allow for more “missing middle housing” — mid-density housing such as semis, row houses and townhouses.
“I’m well aware of the Edmonton zoning requirements,” Clark said.
“There’s been a lot of suggestions given to the (housing task force.) All of those suggestions are under active consideration by the province,” he told reporters.
Jeff Lehman, mayor of Barrie and chair of Ontario’s Big City Mayors, said municipalities play an important role in increasing housing supply and affordability, “but can only be successful when there is a collaborative approach with provincial and federal governments.”
In a statement from Toronto Mayor John Tory’s office, spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi said that while Toronto has “no shortage of developments,” the mayor’s focus continues to be on addressing housing affordability.
The provincial opposition leaders levelled criticism at Ford’s summit.
Saying people facing a crisis in housing “don’t care about political stripes,” Green Party leader Mike Schreiner slammed the summit for having no opposition members.
He said the Greens’ housing plan, released last June, would increase housing supply by taking steps including building 100,000 new permanently affordable rentals, renewing 260,000 affordable community housing units, ending homelessness by building 60,000 permanent supportive housing units and expanding zoning options to allow for duplexes and triplexes “as-of-right.”
Ontario NDP housing critic, MPP Jessica Bell, told reporters that what concerns her is the Ford government’s summit had no “concrete measures to make housing more affordable” for everyday Ontarians.
She is calling for Ford to take several “urgent actions.”
They include stabilizing rent by making it illegal for landlords to raise rent in between tenants, beyond provincial guideline hikes; introducing a vacancy and speculation tax on people who don’t live in the houses they own and don’t pay taxes in Ontario; and zoning reforms that force developers to build more affordable units in every major development.
Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement that during Ford’s time in office the premier has “only made it more difficult” to rent or own a home.
The leader says his party believes increasing housing supply, protecting renters and building affordable housing are key. The party is working on a housing plan and will have more to say on the plan in the coming months, the leader said.
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