Ontario budget tackles root cause of housing affordability

by Neil Sharma on 14 Apr 2019

Toronto is notorious for its unhurried approach to approving developments, but if the 2019 Ontario budget is any indication, there may yet be hope.

Some observers have noted that the budget does not address affordable housing, however, it appears that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is instead addressing the problem at its root: Escalating development charges and slow permitting.

The Ontario Real Estate Association weighed in the government’s approach to raising housing supply.

“OREA is pleased to see today’s budget commit the province to moving forward with its Housing Supply Action Plan this spring. Cutting red tape on development, reducing costs for homebuyers and speeding up the approvals process will increase housing supply across the province, creating more affordable choices for Ontario families and first-time homebuyers,” OREA’s CEO Tim Hudak said in a statement.

Since joining OREA, Hudak has doggedly lobbied for faster approvals. He added that as-of-right zoning “will eliminate an onerous and often political process to build transit-oriented development. Intensification along transit lines and above GO and TTC stations has been a long-standing recommendation of OREA to get more homes built in our province.”

With last week’s announcement that a new subway line will be built in Toronto, as-of-right zoning could very well come to fruition in the near future.

Christopher Alexander, REMAX Integra’s vice president and regional director for Ontario-Atlantic Region, says that developers are often hamstrung by escalating costs in the interim period between when developments are proposed and built, and added that consumers bear the brunt of the cost.

“You put an application in and in year three it gets approved,” he said. “You can’t break ground and by the time you finish your project, it’s five or six years from when you first applied and property values have gone way up. Builders have to account for that, and it drives prices up even more.”

The previous Liberal government introduced a measure to succour faster development approvals, but Alexander noted that it never had enough time to execute it. However, with a fresh term, he believes Premier Ford’s government will.

Still, Alexander was surprised to see that there was little in the budget by way of affordable housing, given that affordability in Toronto has reached critical levels, but he also acknowledges there’s little it can do as things stand.

“There needs to be a national housing strategy for the provincial and municipal governments to leverage, but until that happens we’re going to have more of the same,” he said. “It starts at the top, but the possibility for change is different now that Premier Ford has more runway. He has to deliver. That’s the bottom line.”

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