Ontario proposes to allow cities to expand boundaries faster for housing

TORONTO — Ontario introduced measures Thursday that would allow for more housing to be built beyond urban boundaries and in rural areas as projections suggest its target of building 1.5 million homes by 2031 is falling out of reach.

The Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act would allow municipalities to expand their settlement boundaries more quickly and easily.

Municipalities need to look both inside and outside their urban boundaries for growth, said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.

“We believe, as a government, that all of Ontario is a place to grow, no matter whether you live in the north, you live in eastern Ontario, or southwestern Ontario, or in the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” Clark said.

The minister said the government will be combining its growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe with its Provincial Policy Statement in one overarching document that Clark said will ensure consistency with building and density rules across Ontario. The proposed changes are subject to consultation for 60 days.

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell called the new legislation “troubling.”

“I fear that will pave the way for more sprawl to be built on farmland,” she said.

“And this is concerning because farming is one of Ontario’s most productive and important sectors and it is not going to thrive if the Conservatives make it easier for developers to pave over farmland.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said there is more than enough land within existing boundaries to build the homes Ontario needs.

“Make no mistake, these eleventh-hour attacks on land use planning rules are designed to open the floodgates to reckless, expensive sprawl while doing nothing to address the housing crisis,” he said in a statement.

The legislation is the latest in a series of housing bills introduced by the Progressive Conservative government geared toward stimulating housing growth.

The province has previously given the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa new powers to help build housing, expanded the boundary of Hamilton against the wishes of the local council, reduced or eliminated some fees developers pay, and opened up parts of the protected Greenbelt in order to build 50,000 homes.

Those measures have not yet led to the pace of home building needed to hit the target of 1.5 million homes, though the government says they just need time to take effect and for economic pressures to ease.

While there were about 100,000 homes built in 2022, projections in the recent budget show the number of housing starts in the next few years may only reach upwards of 80,000 annually.

“We know that more progress, and more action is required for our housing goals, particularly in the face of economic uncertainty, inflation, and soaring interest rates,” Clark said.

“Our goal remains the one that I’ve committed to last summer, to get 1.5 million homes built by 2031.”

Clark blamed municipalities for not keeping up with his vision to build homes, saying there hasn’t been much movement on basement apartments and laneway suites after 2019 legislation enabled them.

“We have to move at the speed of our partners, we have to make sure that municipalities are with us and we haven’t seen the implementation as fast as we would like,” he said.

Clark said this legislation doesn’t touch the Greenbelt, but didn’t rule out future changes beyond what he is already pursuing under a housing law from late last year.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has come under fire for removing about 7,400 acres from 15 different areas in the protected Greenbelt lands, while adding more parcels elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes.

The new legislation contains a suite of new measures in a sprawling bill.

It would allow farmers to build three new lots on their land, which the government said was geared toward multi-generational farming families.

The bill would also require 29 of the province’s largest municipalities to plan for growth near transit station areas and downtowns.

As well, the legislation aims to increase the supply of building inspectors by redesigning a qualification program and freezing exam fees.

The bill also contains measures to help renters by beefing up protections against so-called renovictions and gives tenants the right to install air conditioners.

Developers applauded the moves by the province, with the Residential Construction Council of Ontario saying the legislation will help speed up approvals of projects.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2023.

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