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CategoriesHousing Crisis
The Housing Crisis (Part 3)

Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force

May 20, 2022

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The Ontario government recently convened the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force (OHATF), meant to address the growing issue of housing needs across the province. To put the province’s housing need in perspective, roughly two-thirds of the housing need across the entire country falls within Ontario. 650,000 additional units would need to be available to Ontarians for the province to reach the level of homes per capita of other provinces. The next highest housing need is in Alberta, where the unit gap is only 138,000.

The average housing units per 1,000 residents across G7 nations is 471. Canada’s national average is only 424, and Toronto in particular has only 360 units per 1,000 residents. In addition to the slow decline in housing starts over the past several decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis, due to pandemic-related labour shortages, increased materials costs, and supply chain struggles. However, 2021 saw a sharp increase in housing starts, which sets an optimistic start to the push to increase Ontario’s housing supply, and the OHATF has published a report outlining 55 recommendations to carry the progress through the next 10 years and close the housing gap.

Task Force Recommendations

The very first recommendation of the report is for the province to set a goal of building 1.5 million new homes within ten years. In 2020, there were 75,000 units built and this will need to increase to an annual average of 150,000 to attain this ambitious goal. To support this primary goal, the second recommendation would see the adjustment of legislature, policy, and planning to ensure that unit development of all housing types is prioritized by municipalities.

Several recommendations speak to “as-of-right zoning”, which refers to matching a municipality’s housing needs with its zoning bylaws. Currently, many restrictions on new builds exist, such as a maximum limit on the number of storeys that can be built, and a minimum number of stairways and entryways in buildings over a certain height. Lowering restrictions on new builds could dramatically increase the potential units and population density in a given area.

Several recommendations also speak to curtailing abuses of the heritage preservation and designation process, by which municipalities can register properties to preserve a neighbourhood’s physical character, either by maintaining historical architecture or by limiting the development of modern buildings that might clash with the area’s character. These designations have at times been applied to prevent housing developments, or have been applied in good faith but inadvertently led to the prevention of housing developments.

Many of the report’s recommendations look at how to cut the “red tape” inherent to the planning, consultations, review, and appeals process for approving a new development. These changes would allow for shorter timelines, limit the appeals and conflicts that disrupt the approvals process, streamline smaller-scale developments, and prioritize projects that support significant housing growth.

There are also several recommendations in the report which would waive charges and ensure timely and appropriate use of municipal funds for housing developments. Development charges need to be paid up front, and are the same regardless of the size of the home. This means that developers need to pay significant fees up front before they can break ground, and the fees will be the same for them whether they build a small duplex or a sprawling mansion, effectively disincentivizing the production of more affordable housing. HST also applies to all new housing, and there are maximum thresholds for home prices eligible for HST rebates, and these maximum amounts are roughly half the average cost of a home in Ontario currently. Indexing the rebates to modern levels would have an immediate effect on reducing the cost of new builds across the province.

The report recommendations also call for the creation of strategies and pathways for first-generation homeowners, as well as Black, Indigenous, and marginalized people to own homes. According to the report, 73% of Canadians own homes, but within the Black population it is only 48%, and within the LGBTQ+ community it is 47%. Options explored in the report for more equitable housing rates include shared equity models, land lease models, and rent-to-own models.

Several recommendations explore the need for investments in municipal infrastructure, which future housing developments would rely on. Not only does an area require water, storm drains, roads, sidewalks, etc., to support residents, but as residential areas are intensified with more and more units, the capacity of the existing infrastructure needs to be able to support the increase in residents.

There is also a need to meet Ontario’s demand for skilled trades people, as less and less youth acquire the skills necessary to build the requisite housing. The report points to the need for increased funding, incentivization, and promotion of skilled trades training, as well as prioritizing and expediting immigration status for skilled immigrants.

The report recommends the development of an Ontario Housing Delivery Fund which would reward housing growth that exceeds provincial targets, reductions in approval times, and the removal of exclusionary zoning, while reducing funding where housing growth targets and approval timeline targets are not met.

The final recommendations call for regular reporting, analysis, and evaluation of housing needs and municipal and provincial housing data.

Task Force Report Limitations

The Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force report does not address any demand-side issues, rent control and vacancy issues, people owning multiple properties, or changes to real estate sales and marketing practices. These are all considerable factors in Ontario’s housing crisis, and further reporting will be required to add this context to the recommended approaches. The Task Force is also made up of stakeholders that largely represent the needs of middle-class Canadians, with backgrounds in banking, for-profit and not-for-profit housing development, real estate, and urban planning. The housing needs of low-income Canadians who require subsidies and/or housing supports will also need to be further explored and factored into the planned development of Ontario housing over the next decade.

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